Bill meets the missionaries.

Editor’s Note: Now that we’re nice and familiar with Seminarian Bill, of the Madison Diocese, it’s time to see what happens when he encounters a couple Morman missionaries on the streets of Winona, MN. 

The other night, I was out for a little stroll on the edge of campus. On this beautiful evening, as I was walking, I saw two fine young men approaching on bicycles, dressed in a shirt and tie with a black name-tag hanging from their pocket. MORMON! My internal Mormon radar was firing like no tomorrow.

As they passed slowly they gave me a nice nod, to which I responded, “How’s it going tonight?” To be honest, I was a bit surprised they did not stop right away and ask me if I have ever heard of Jesus Christ and that whole spiel. I simply was not going to allow this opportunity to ride away on a bike, so I said, “Are you guys missionaries or something?” Before I finished the word missionary, the two young men immediately turned around in perfect unison, dismounted their bikes, and then gave the typical “we’re representatives of the Church of blah blah, would you like to know more about Jesus Christ?”

Boom. “I always want to know more about Jesus Christ,” was my obvious response. This got them excited. They began explaining their message and the beliefs of the Mormon Church. Now, of course I did not lie and tell them I was very ignorant about religion, but I definitely did not initially tell them that I knew quite a bit about the Bible, the Church, and the general history of Christianity.

For those that do not know, the basic premise of the Mormon Church is as follows: A group of ancient Israelites left Israel to avoid persecution and traveled across the ocean to the Americas where they established a settlement in upstate New York and practiced the exact same faith as that of the ancient Hebrews, including writing pieces of Scripture supposedly similar and of equal value as the Old Testament. Then, after Christ came to the earth, suffered, died, rose, and ascended, He purportedly visited this other tribe of Israel in the Americas, bringing them the Gospel. All of this was apparently written down on golden plates. Then, in roughly 400 A.D., the Nephites as they were called, lost a war and were exterminated. But, these mysterious scriptural plates were buried, only to be discovered by Joseph Smith, a common man of the 1800’s. Turns out Joseph Smith is also a prophet and writes a couple books of scriptures, gains some followers, and voila, less than 200 years later, Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions on Earth.

To be sure, as a Catholic, we consider most of this to be nonsense. Historical records show no evidence of this mysterious tribe of Israel that miraculously made its way to the Americas. Plus, they sort of believe in many gods, so that whole thing’s not going to fly. As some of you can probably imagine, I was sure to insert objections into their explanation of the Mormon faith. After nearly 2 hours, it was clear we had established a nice friendship in which discussion will continue. They really were stand-up gentlemen.

I would love to write an entire explanation of why Mormonism is simply false and misled right here, right now, but that would take pages and pages and pages. But, after meeting these missionaries and chatting with them, I reflected on the many reasons why I am Catholic. What is it about Catholicism that makes me so sure of this faith?

The answer was obvious; The Holy Eucharist. This gift of the Eucharist is the final word that makes Catholicism so different than any other faith. What a ridiculous belief, really! The popular atheist, Richard Dawkins, at a recent “Rally for Reason”, asked in mockery, “Do you really believe that a wafer, when blessed by the priest, becomes the body of Jesus Christ?” My answer: Absolutely, 100%, with all my heart, with the entirety of my being, because life would not make sense without it.

The Holy Eucharist

Jesus, the God and King of the universe, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, comes to us in this tiny, tasteless, and pitiful combination of water and wheat, and in a simple chalice of wine. It’s nuts! 5 minutes before Mass, the hosts are sitting in a box in plastic wrap. 5 minutes after, their are reposed in a beautiful Tabernacle to be adored and loved by the faithful as the true Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus meant it when he said in John’s Gospel that the Bread of Life He will give is His flesh! He comes to us so small, so weak, so humble, for only that we might be drawn into physical union with him. In the exact same way that He gave up His body for us on the Cross, at each and every Mass, Jesus gives up his body once again for us, that we may be healed of sin and drawn into an intimate and loving relationship with Him and the Trinity.

Would I like to ride around on a bike looking dapper teaching people about Jesus? Sure, they would pretty fun — I guess I could probably do it. But, I would much rather have all my desires satisfied, my thirsts satiated, and my hungers abated in union with our Lord in the Eucharist.

Hunger for Love

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.
– Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Thank you to the wonderful Catholic school teachers in our Diocese who passed this gem along! How true it is, Bl. Mother Teresa. Only 90 days to go until Love Begins Here takes on this task during it’s first of six mission trips this summer. Praise the Lord!

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.
– Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Thank you to the wonderful Catholic school teachers in our Diocese who passed this gem along! How true it is, Bl. Mother Teresa. Only 90 days to go until Love Begins Here takes on this task during it’s first of six mission trips this summer. Praise the Lord!

Hipsters go to Confession, too.

Editor’s Note: Seminarian Bill VanWagner is at it again. Enjoy this timely Lenten hipster reflection.

I took up a new hobby recently that is really, really awesome. I started collecting and listening to vintage vinyl records. It is like the most hip thing possible right now. Vinyl records are awesome for a lot of reasons. Only artists who really actually care about the music they make will take the time and money to release their stuff on vinyl. And, only fans and listeners who are truly committed to appreciating the beauty of the art will bear the inconvenience to listen to them. Plus, vinyl records sound so much better than playing MP3’s through cheap computer speakers. Seriously.

In order to play vinyl records, you need a turntable, a receiver/amplifier, and a set of stereo speakers. The thing is, the modern versions of these pieces of equipment are a joke. Their ugly, tacky, and wicked expensive. Thus, Craigslist, thrift stores, and creepy hippy stores are the place to look for classic used equipment. If you’re lucky, you may find an estate sale where you could buy grandma’s old dust-filled stereo on which she listened to Puff the Magic Dragon, Frank Sinatra, and other hits back in her glory day.

The one problem is that this equipment often needs some maintenance. Stuff gets old, it falls apart. When I purchased my stereo from a collection of different people off of Craigslist, I really had no idea what to expect. I saw some pictures and whatnot, but pictures lie. Turns out, I got a pretty okay deal. Turntable was working fine, speakers were alright, but the receiver was in rough shape.

In order to fix this thing, I had to take it all apart. Since it was made in the 70’s, before people were into being efficient with things, there was like a million screws to be taken off just to even see the inside. Once I got in, I sprayed this awesome dust obliterating spray all over which essentially burns away all the dust inside this thing. I’m pretty sure this stuff would also obliterate your eyes, skin, and probably your bones too–it’s pretty awesome.

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Bill's Lovely Record Player

Then, after that, the next step was to repair any damages to the wire connections in the interior. Essentially, wires are connected to other wires, plugs, or boards by this meltable, formable metal called solder. In order to fix bad connections, I had to melt the solder using a soldering iron, rip the wire from where it was connected, heat the components with the iron, apply new solder, and remake the connection. Basically, its a painful process for the poor little receiver, but in the end, it sounds amazing.

This is so much like how God’s mercy works in our lives, especially during this awesome season of Lent. We come to God as imperfect, slightly broken, damaged beings. We have a little dust deep within our souls. Our connections are weak and damaged.

It would be really nice to say that God’s mercy works like a magic waterfall of skittles and unicorns where we just feel really cute and nice and happy because God loves us so much and we are like magic eagles that can soar to the heights of rainbows. #sorrynotsorry, but that is not always the case. Sometimes God’s mercy is a bit painful. It always hurts to recall moments of failure and sin. The realization of our own sinfulness in light of God’s great glory is a painful process of self-understanding and humility. We feel the hot metal iron of Jesus’ mercy melting away the bad stuff, ripping it apart, and putting it back together the right way.  The amazing thing about this process of mercy is that, because Jesus obviously knows what is best for us, we come out with a deeper relationship with God and are enabled to live a much holier life than before. The pain is totally worth it.

My advice: take this season of Lent as an opportunity to let Jesus do a little dirty, painful repair work in your soul. Use your Lenten practice/sacrifice as a reminder of the pain of conversion and necessity for reliance on God’s providence. Most importantly, go to Confession. The Sacrament of Confession is the ultimate spiritual fix-me-up. This is where Jesus does the heating, melting, ripping, dust-obliterating, and rebuilding that our  soul truly needs. Finally, always remember that, just like Lent, the pain of conversion and holiness is always followed by the incredible joy and peace of the Resurrection. With our eyes firmly fixed on Our Lord’s absolute domination of death, we can bear any pain this silly world has to offer, just beastin’ our way to Heaven.

And if you want to be really cool, find your parents old record player and get that thing spinning again.

I put before you the one …

I put before you the one great thing on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find honor, fidelity, romance, and glory and the true way of all your loves upon earth. – JRR Tolkien

I put before you the one great thing on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find honor, fidelity, romance, and glory and the true way of all your loves upon earth. – JRR Tolkien

Do you love Bl. JPII?

My guess is that by reading this blog or stopping by, the answer most likely is yes. Who doesn’t love a Holy Father who…
… gave 3,288 planned speeches during his Apostolic Voyagues,
… Beatified 1,338 Blesseds,
… Canonized 482 Saints,
… held 1,161 General Audiences,
… spoke to over 17,600,000 people at those General Audiences,
… broke open the teaching of the Theology of the Body,
… established World Youth Day,
… gave the Church the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary,
… encouraged the New Evangelization,
… and above all was an outstanding model of holiness for all people.

Now that you are remembering some of the many reasons why you love Blessed Pope John Paul II, make sure to mark your calendars for May 20th. On this afternoon, there will be a beautiful celebration in honor of his beatification, including a St. Therese Lecture on Faith, Reason and Unity, a topic close to the heart of Bl. JPII, Mass with Bishop Morlino and a reception.

To RSVP for this event, please visit the Diocese of Madison’s website. You surely don’t want to miss this day of celebration and learning about the life and teachings of Bl. JPII from Professor Douglas Bushman.

Boat Shoes, Hipsters and Holiness

Editor’s note: Here’s another post from Madison Seminarian, Bill Van Wagner. Enjoy the inspiration.

Everybody knows you can tell a hipster by his or her clothes. That sort of “I don’t really care about how I look, but actually I really do because everything I’m wearing was pretty expensive even though it looks really cheap because it’s dirty and has holes in it” image is vital to being an authentic hipster. One of the most important parts of this look is the shoes. It’s all about the kicks. You can really tell a lot about a person by their shoes. For a Catholic Hipster, shoes are sup(er) important. Here’s why:

Catholics (like most other human beings) wear shoes a lot, to a huge variety of different places. Home, school, the mall, the movies, Mass, and other places that have a no shoes, no shirt, no service sign.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a shoe that could go to all those places and totally fit in? A pair of shoes you could wear at school with blue jeans and a tee shirt; a pair of shoes comfortable enough to wear around the house; a pair of shoes that look nice enough to wear out with your friends; a pair of shoes classy enough to wear to Mass because it’s super holy and super important and Jesus really deserves our very best; that would be a great pair of shoes.

This pair of shoes would also have to pretty sturdy. In the Gospel, when Jesus sends out his followers in pairs of two to preach to the nations, they didn’t hop a cab, catch the nearest bus, or wait for mom to drive them, they straight up walked wherever they had to go. Jesus told them to wear sandals. You could take that literally if you want, I suppose. But, thanks be to God, as Catholics we don’t really read the Bible literally like that, so maybe there’s some room for interpretation.

Bill's Newest Boat Shoes

Here’s the great news — this pair of everything shoes actually do exist. Boat shoes, kids. Boat shoes are the bees knees. Boat shoes are classy, casual, stylish, comfy as heck, cool enough to wear to school, good enough for the mall, nice enough for Jesus, and they’re sturdy enough to walk for miles. Plus, you can be like Jesus since He was always in and out of boats helping those foolish fishermen catch like thousands of fish and calming the storms because when you’re the Son of God, you can do that kind of thing. Boat shoes really do have it all. I personally think I have a couple of the greatest pairs of boat shoes every made, but I might be biased.

Saint Francis of Assisi (a total hipster) once said that “it is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our preaching is our walking.” Boom. Well said, Saint Francis. To be a good, holy Catholic, you have to walk the walk. It’s not enough to say nice things, pray when you need help with something, and go to Mass every once in a while. While those things are bad, you gotta get some pep in that step! To be Catholic is to live this radically different lifestyle in which the pleasures of the world are sacrificed for the greater glory of Jesus and His Church. To be a Catholic trying to be holy, you have to pray from the depths of your heart, love the image of God in each and every person you see, and seek to do the Father’s will in all things. That seems impossible? Yeah, well, just talking about it isn’t going to make it any less impossible, homie. And that’s the great thing about holiness, its a way of life, a journey — you travel along the way, growing closer to the Lord with every step.

My advice: Go buy a super awesome pair of boat shoes, christen them as your Catholic Hipster boat shoes — maybe even take a sharpie and write your favorite Bible verse inside the shoe. Then, every time you wear them and look down at your feet, you’ll be reminded of the lifestyle you’re trying to live. Maybe that will remind you to say a few Hail Mary’s, or remind you to say prayer of thanks for the gifts you received today, or remind you to be kind and loving and smile at everyone you meet. Case in point: Boat shoes make you more like Jesus.