Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Then she broke down in my arms

I got to witness someone experiencing the loving power of Jesus for the first time
in the middle of a Nandos restaurant.

She's a non-practising Catholic friend of mine who I've been praying for for more than a year now. Each night I lift up my petitions for those near and dear to me. I tell you this, not to elevate myself, but  to bring glory to Him (1 Cor 1:31).

Our meals had just been served and I had that moment of internal battle: should I? or shouldn't I? The should I won - I offered to say grace.

I held my breath, bracing for her reaction.

"Yeah, sure."

My breath slid out quietly and I quit driving my nails into the palms of my hands long enough to sign in.

"Dear Jesus, thank you for this food that you've blessed us with tonight, for the hands that have helped to bring it to our table. I thank you especially for the company - that I get to hang out with this beautiful, loving woman. Thank you that I have her in my life. Ame-"

"-can I add something?" My friend cut in.

I almost fell off my chair but recovered quickly enough to encourage her along.

"Of course, of course."

"I would like to thank you, God, that I have Michaela in my life, because she brings me so much joy and love. Amen."

My heart beat outside of my chest. All I could do was think, She's praying. Oh my goodness, she's praying. Does she even know that SHE'S PRAYING!!! Thank you Jesus. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

We signed out and for her sake as well as my own I was about to continue the conversation we'd been having - but then I heard a sniff coming from her direction. I turned to see her shoulders slumped and shaking up and down. Tears welled in her eyes and ran down her face. She lunged herself into my arms and broke down.

I don't think she knew it, but she had just experienced a moment with Christ.

What an absolute privilege it was to witness such a thing and to be an instrument in bringing it about. I've learnt three things as a result:

Lesson #1: The world can see Jesus in me.
At my last job, my workmates were talking about a new romcom that they wanted to see about sleeping around. One of them turned to me and said, "oh, but you wouldn't like it." At the time, I couldn't figure out why they would say such a thing. Don't get me wrong, it was truthful, but I had never expressed a distaste for such a thing, nor had I told any one of them that I'm Christian. Though I may forget about Him, He is in me. Though I may forget He is in me, the world sees Him all the same.

Lesson #2: God answers prayers when you pray with persistence and with expectancy.
St. Monica is a prime example. She prayed and wept for many, many years for the conversion of her son. He turned out to be one of the greatest theologians in the history of the church - St. Augustine (cf Confessions by St. Augustine).

Lesson #3: God cannot act unless we step out in bold faith.
"When God sends the prophet Jeremiah, He gives Him the power to 'pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant' (1:10). It is the same for you. Bringing the Gospel is bringing God's power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred, so as to build a new world. Jesus is counting on you!" (Pope Francis WYD RIO closing Mass). For He has "no body but yours" (St. Teresa of Avila).

Pope Francis (2013, ¶2) shared with the youth of Argentina at World Youth Day last Thursday that, "The parishes, the schools, the institutions are made for going out." My understanding of what he was saying is that we cannot be for ourselves. We cannot make exclusive little kingdoms of our own. We cannot live in these picture-perfect bubbles. We must be formed in our parishes, schools and institutions to then take Christ out into the world.

Further reading:
God bless,

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Abort! Abort!

I was saying goodbye to a friend the other day - a friend who isn't from my Christian circles - and two little words tumbled out of my mouth before I could gather them up again:
"God bless!"
The thoughts that followed in my head went something like this:
"Did I really just say that?"
The look on her face said that I did. I almost died.
"You idiot Michaela - you can't say that around her!"
The microsecond of awkwardness that passed felt like a million years.
"Abort! Abort!"

The thing is, the words came out so nonchalantly. I shouldn't be surprised because it's a part of my everyday language - 90% of the people I interact with are practicing Christians. But it got me thinking: first, why are 90% of the people I interact with practicing Christians - if I'm truly Christian as I claim to be, should it not be more like 50%? And second, why do I alter what I say based on who I am talking to? Why would I censor everything that makes me who I am? Is it fear of offence? Of rejection?

I mean seriously, what's the worst that can happen? She's going to think that I'm looking down my nose at her? She's going to think I'm a little weird and choose to ignore that part of me? She's going to not want to be friends with me anymore? I think the real question is, could I really live with myself if she never came to know Jesus because I hid Him from her?

It's these little interactions that make all the difference. The not being afraid (or rather, choosing through the fear) to say grace before a meal in public. The not avoiding eye contact with the homeless guy at the bus stop. The not convincing myself that the new girl at Mass is fine sitting by herself. The not hushing my voice when I'm talking about God on the phone in the checkout line of the supermarket. The not hiding my rosary in my pocket as I pray on my way home. The not describing my job as working in "youth leadership" or "helping disadvantaged kids" when I work and volunteer in youth ministry for the Catholic Church.

When we omit these parts of ourselves and show the world that Christians are just "nice", we're doing the world a disservice. They see nothing bold, nothing daring, nothing powerful about being Christian. We come across as soft. There's no point wearing a crucifix around our necks and advertising that fact. For why would anyone be attracted to the Catholic Church if we're all just "living a good life" and "being good people". I'm pretty sure they'd much rather be out partying or watching Game of Thrones.

As Pope Francis said during a homily in May, "When the Church loses apostolic courage, she becomes a stalled Church, a tidy Church, a Church that is nice to look at, but that is without fertility."

If I look back over my journey into the faith, those people who stood out along the way were the ones who did not deny who they were. They were the Chris Brown fans during his innocent "No Air" days who prayed the rosary daily. They were the D'n'M instigators at late night Maccas runs. They were the mountain climbers who blared Christian worship out their car speakers all the way to the bush and back. Their willingness to show this part of themselves gave me permission to do so myself. They gave me something to reach for.

So, no. I don't want to be "nice". I don't want to be a good person. I want to be a great person. I want to make a mark. I want my life to count. And I cannot do that by hiding what I practice on Sunday from my Monday through to Saturday. I cannot do that by being Christian around Christians and not around the rest of the world. Yikes. Look out secular friends, you're about to get a rude awakening.

Back to my moment of panic: what happened after our microsecond of awkwardness? The best part - her response.
"Oh. Uhmm - love you too, Michaela."
I think they're more afraid than we are.

Some further reading:

God bless,

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Tolerate, as I have tolerated you

Jesus is not nice.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword." (Matt 10:34)
It's no accident that C.S. Lewis used a lion to represent Christ.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you." (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

I'm frustrated by how soft the western world (and that's a good portion of the Christian western world, too) has grown to become. Oh I better not say that, otherwise I might hurt their feelings. Oh I better not fail him even though he didn't meet the criteria. Oh I better not tell her she dresses inappropriately because I don't want to embarrass her.

Further, the great fight over equality. Equality of gender. Equality of life stage. Equality of sexuality. There's a great deal of difference between being treated equally and being treated justly. I don't think we want equality to be what we fight for, do you?

What ever happened to telling the truth? What ever happened to accountability? As Nathan explained last week on the meaning of love - is not speaking the truth and accountability the most loving thing - the best thing for them? Would it not be most loving to foster an environment of honesty, to call our brothers and sisters on, to open their eyes to opportunities for growth?

I acknowledge that there are times when our opinions are best kept to ourselves, but I'm talking about the truth here. Tell him that his Maths just does not scrub up and he should think about getting a tutor. Tell her that the way she dresses is leading men astray and speak into her heart that she is a treasure to be discovered. Tell him that the music he is listening to is destroying his soul. Tell her that she needs to pull her finger out and start praying every day again. This means saying the hard stuff.

Jesus was not afraid to show or tell people when they were doing wrong, so why should we?
"He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves He said, 'Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace'." (John 2:14-16)
Jesus was not fighting against them. He was fighting for them. His actions were clearly premeditated ("He made a whip out of chords"). It was not a momentary burst of fury. No, Jesus was calling His brothers and sisters on and His message was loud and clear.

I say goodbye to tolerance, indifference, apathy and being lukewarm and hello to accountability, challenging others and loving the heck out of our brothers and sisters. Will you join me in fighting for them?
God bless,

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Love is when Mummy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn't think it's gross

Flowing on from last week's post, one of the comments that many people make when talking about same-sex marriage is that it should become lawful because if two people love each other, they should have the right to marry. This begs the question, what exactly is love anyway? Theology student, Nathan Costin, has a thing or two to say.

Guest Blogger: Nathan Costin

Youth Coordinator of the Brisbane East Deanery
and theology student at Australian Catholic University
Nathan Costin
Flo Rida’s song, “Let it Roll” has been stuck in my head the past few days, particularly the prelude to the chorus, “Love is nice when it’s understood, even nicer when it makes you feel good.” As I was driving and the song popped into my head yet again I asked myself, do I agree with Flo making a catchy beat? Yes. Do I agree with Tramar Dillard using the alias Flo Rida? Yes. Do I agree with Flo’s view of love in this song? No.

“Love”, as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI stated in Deus Caritas Est, “has become one of the most frequently used and misused words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings”. Love has almost become an excuse to justify a multitude of conflicting decisions and actions - particularly in relationships. Take this example:

I know of a couple who, when they were in high school, after three weeks of dating each other, decided to skip a day of school, book a motel and have sex. “Love”, the guy told me, was the reason they did it. “We love each other and I wanted to take it to the next level.” Love had somehow pushed the couple to skip school, race off to a motel and have sex.

I myself recently got engaged. My fiancée and I have not had sex, nor do we plan to until our wedding night. We identified how love is communicated and shared in a vast variety of different ways. We committed to growing and learning to perfect this language of love before giving it the eternal stamp with our bodies in marriage. How we understand love has called us to save sex.
Nathan & fiancée Jen
So here we have that word ‘love’ used as the reason to have sex, and also used as the reason to not have sex. They can’t both be love. So which is it?

Flo Rida says love is nicest when it makes you feel good. I disagree. I think love is nicest when it’s understood. St Thomas Aquinas and the Catechism of the Catholic Church offer a rarely heard definition of love: “To love is to will the good of another” (CCC 1766).

Huh? I can actually will love? Yes! Love places the good of the other over and above what makes us feel good. It is completely other-centered. Love looks at what is best for someone then does everything in its power to bring about that good. And yes, this often involves renunciation and sacrifice of our own desires especially when they are contrary to what is truly best for our beloved. This way we are in control of love, we are held responsible. What is ‘loving’ can now have a moral value put on it.

Love is not just an emotion. Can something imposed on us actually be love?

The self-sacrificial love of Jesus is often upheld as the ultimate example of love. But how did this love begin? With a free choice. In the garden, Jesus clearly doesn’t feel like being crucified (Mt 26:39), but He flexes His will. He shows us that love is something we can choose above feelings no matter how intense or overwhelming. Love, when understood as an act of the will, empowers us to witness to, and to actively participate in love. Emotions are nice, but understanding that we are not slaves to them and can choose above feelings with intellect and will is even better. We are free to love. And being able to love freely is much more satisfying than being slaves to our feelings.

Rather than feeling good, love is nicest when it’s understood.

Some good sources and books on LOVE:

God bless,


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Myth: Catholics hate homosexuals

I don't know where the idea came from that the Catholic Church hates homosexuals. Homosexuality is a sexual orientation - it's a part of a person's identity. The Lord has called us to "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34). We are called to love all who God has created, how God has created them.
"With love for mankind and hatred of sins" - St. Augustine
A person's sexual orientation or same-sex attractions are not sinful. It is the sexual act between two men or two women, just as any sexual act outside of marriage, that is sinful.
"Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357)
Scriptural references: 

"The term 'objective disorder' may strike some of us with same-sex attractions as being harsh, because we feel that we never asked to have homosexual attractions and we fear that this term is in some way condemnatory or derogatory. It is important to remember that "objective disorder" is a philosophical term which describes a particular inclination - it does not diminish our value and worth in the eyes of God." (Courage 2013)
What does the Cathechism mean by "contrary to the natural law"? The fourfold vow of marriage is that by marriage and in sexual union you give yourself to someone freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully (Lifeteen 2012). Same gender couples are unable to procreate, therefore they cannot fully give themselves to another person.
"Sex is ordered towards two things: bonding the couple and bringing forth life. There is only one context in which this is possible: in the marriage of one man and one woman. If there is no marriage, there is often no sense of true commitment and the bonding of the couple is weak. If both genders are not represented, the possibility of life is thwarted. Anything that directly violates either the bonding or the possibility of life is a disordered use of the sexual act (as well as use of the other person)." (University of Minnesota Duluth 2010)
The Church recognises the sensitivity of this topic and that the correct response is to love unconditionally.
"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358)
Further reading:

God bless,