The God Who Waits.

photo-1The long wait is over — Madison Diocese Seminarian Bill VW is back to guest blog.

It has been a really, really long time since Madison Catholic Youth’s favorite guest blogger has graced these pages with the deeply profound thoughts you had all become accustomed to. My bad for that.

In reality, I have intended to write a post or two or seven many, many times over the last couple of months, but have been kept busy by my studies and formation as a seminarian for the Diocese.

As part of my formation at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, MN, I have the opportunity to visit, pray, and study with some men incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, MN. The FMC is a medium security prison. As you can imagine, the men don’t have much freedom. They get told when to wake up and when to go to sleep and when and how to do everything in between. It’s actually quite a bit like the seminary —  just kidding.

When my fellow seminarians, one of our priests, and I visit the FMC, Father celebrates Mass for the inmates and then they are invited to participate in a discussion about the readings for the weekend and their own personal faith journey. The discussion is typically filled with brotherly banter. In fact, some of the older inmates frequently like to remind us seminarians that they are smarter and wiser than us.

Between the friendly mocking and tests of wit, the inmates offer some incredibly profound reflections on the love of God working in their lives. During our last visit, one inmate shared something that has been on my heart and mind ever since. He said, “Ya know, I think Jesus is the little God who waits.” He went on to describe his marvel at Jesus’ humility in becoming human like you and I, offering us the gift of his eternal love, while still allowing us the freedom to choose that love.

This statement on the nature of Jesus Christ is particularly relevant during this Advent season. Since the beginning of time, God has “waited” for humanity. When the Father created the world, though he created man perfect, he left us with the power to choose to love Him. Ever since our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose against that love in Original Sin, God has been waiting patiently for mankind to be ready once again to accept His love.

God to spoke to many people throughout history, slowing revealing more and more about who he is, who we are, and who we were made to be. God remained patient with the Israelites, who, even after being freed from slavery in Egypt, continually turned away from the Lord towards false gods and idols. God remained patient with His people even as they rejected the prophets He sent and the message of love they desired to bring.

Little by little, God made known who is He is to the people whom He loves. This process of revelation ultimately culminated in the most spectacular event in human history to date: a baby was born. Just a simple little baby. God could have finally revealed His entire self to the people in a magnificent display of His splendor and power. I have no idea what this would look like, but I imagine if God really wanted to do something crazy, it would be a bit more than your average firework show.

But instead, God reveals everything about Himself by becoming one of us, taking on our frailty in all things but sin. As if that wasn’t humble and patient enough, Jesus waited another 30 years before He even told anyone who the heck He was! Even after His Passion, death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ still waits for you and I. He waits with patient love as we struggle to make Him the center of our lives. As long as we’re alive, Jesus Christ’s patience will never run out on us. Even though we so often fail, choosing against his love, and falling into sin, Jesus continually offers us His love.

I think a man in prison would probably know something really special about God’s patient love for him. This Advent, I hope we can learn from this man to never give up on God’s patient and merciful love for us. The fact is we should never be discouraged by our own sin and weakness, but remain hopeful in the fact that Jesus Christ’s sole purpose for becoming human, born of the Virgin Mary, was to ensure our salvation and restore us to His love. On Christmas, when we celebrate again the birth of the Jesus, let Him love you like the beautiful creation that you are. And make sure to spend some time with Him during the Christmas season, because who doesn’t love playing with babies, right?

Rejoice! Rejoice!

O come, desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of humankind:
bid ev’ry sad division cease
and be thyself our Prince of peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.

Happy Advent and Happy New Year, one and all. Thanks for stopping by Madison Catholic Youth’s blog today. In case you’ve been a faithful follower for quite a while, sorry for that draught we just experienced. November was quite the month. It was great seeing almost 100 great co-workers in the vineyard at Regional Gatherings in November, and we held our Unveiled retreats for the first time. (If you missed them, check out the facebook and twitter for a few little highlights. Though, we will get some on the blog soon, too.)

Back to this New Year in the Church we just began. In the name of resolutions, please find our plan for the blog this December. It promises to be a mix of reflection, happily awaited information, photographs and inspiration.

Calendar - Blog Smallest

From today until December 31st, we are promising a (week) daily update right here on these pages. Please enjoy.

To help you navigate this month, we’ll be linking up all of the December blog posts right here —

12 | 3 – Marian Advent Reflection
12 | 4 – LBH Theme Reveal: Come. Go.
12 | 5 – Guest Blogger: The God Who Waits
12 | 6 – St. John Bosco Day Announcement
12 | 7 – Film Contest Launch

12 | 10 – Frassati Fest – Catholic Herald, Part I
12 | 11 – Frassati Fest – Catholic Herald, Part II
12 | 12 – Frassati Fest on Twitter
12 | 13 – Frassati Fest Workshop Previews
12 | 14 – Frassati Fest – Keynote Speaker Surprise

12 | 17 – LOVE BEGINS HERE – Special, Part I
12 | 18 – LOVE BEGINS HERE – Special, Part II
12 | 19 – Cardinal Virtue Spotlight
12 | 20 – MYSTERY
12 | 21 – Lindsay’s Christmas Gift

12 | 24 – CHRISTMAS
12 | 25 – CHRISTMAS, Guest Blog
12 | 26 – New Evangelization, Part I
12 | 27 – New Evangelization, Part II
12 | 28 – New Evangelization, Part III

12 | 30 – New Evangelization, Part IV
12 | 31 – New Year’s Resolutions

#YOLO

While Seminarian Bill has been busy interning for Love Begins Here…

… he has also found a bit of time for blogging. Enjoy this latest read.

#YOLO

If, like me, you are narcissistically obsessed with social media, specifically Twitter, then you are probably familiar with the common phrase/hashtag, #YOLO. Apparently YOLO stands for You Only Live Once. This seems to be a pretty common cliche for most human beings. In the Twitterverse, #YOLO is typically used like this:

“I’m going to party so hard tonight and make a lot bad decisions that I know I shouldn’t make! #YOLO”

Translation:

“Because I only live once, I should do a ton of things I’m going to regret because I’m not going to have another chance to make such poor choices!”

Let’s break this whole #YOLO thing down in light of our faith. First of all, #YOLO sort of flies in the face of the whole Buddhist, reincarnation thing. For a Buddhist, what you do in life has a direct effect on what you’ll be reincarnated as next. So if I really mess up this life, I’ll probably come back as a monkey, a tree, or a tomato plant.

However, as Catholics we don’t really believe in reincarnation so this whole #YOLO idea might actually work for us, right? Yes! Except not the way you were thinking…

See, we do only live once. God has given us this one single chance here on earth. For some of us it’s long, for others it’s tragically short. We all end up doing vastly different things with our lives. Some of us will be priests and nuns, others will be mothers and fathers. Some of us may be doctors, and other janitors. Some moments in life are filled to the brim with joy, love, and peace. Still, some times of our lives are sewn with hardship, suffering, pain, doubt, grief, and hurt. This inevitably leads to the question; What’s the point of it all? Why did God create me in the first place?

Well, the old Baltimore Catechism asked the same question:

“Q. 6. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”

This Baltimore Catechism was written ages ago, so let me translate:

“Q. Why did God make you?
A: #YOLO”

See its like is; we were made to know, to love, and to serve God here, right now in this life so that we can live forever with Him in the glorious heavenly kingdom. The key is “in this life”. AKA We really only live once.

Heres the beautiful thing: Jesus, in His perfect wisdom, hasn’t left us out to dry on our own to figure out how to know, love, and serve him. Instead, he gave us his Church, through which we have the graceful guidance of the Holy Spirit, the wonderful teachers that are the Pope, the Bishops, and Priests, and the Sacraments through which we are able to drink from infinite fountain of God’s grace.

With #YOLO in mind, we should not be making poor choices that we know we are going to regret. Word of wisdom: anytime you have to say “no regrets” before you do something, that probably means you’re going to regret it. Instead, we should be doing things are going to help us know, love, and serve God.

In essence, every time we are faced with a choice in life, no matter how big or small, we should think ourselves, “Is what I’m doing bringing me closer to knowing, loving, and, serving God?” We can’t live life on the fence, friends. God has a specific plan for each and every moment of our lives. With every choice we make, we are either coming closer to knowing, loving, and serving God, or not.

So maybe we should start saying things like this:

“Going to Confession and Mass today! #YOLO”
“Serving the poor in Christ’s name! #YOLO”
“Praying the Rosary! #YOLO”

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.

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.

Image
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.

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.

Loving hipsters is easy. (The first guest post!)

Editor’s note: This blog is the first guest post on madisoncatholicyouth.com. This has been written by Madison Seminarian Bill VanWagner, who himself is proud of being a hipster and his Catholic faith. Check back often for weekly posts this Lent from Bill.

Let’s be honest, almost everyone wants to be a hipster. You can deny it all you want, but you know you have at least one Bon Iver album on your iPod, you love v-neck tee shirts, and you are always looking for an opportunity to wear those huge-rimmed glasses you found at grandma’s house. If you’re reading this–which you are–then you are also probably Catholic. This is good news. Being Catholic basically automatically makes you a hipster. Don’t believe me? Take Urban Dictionary’s word for it:

HIPSTER: Hipsters are a subculture of men and women that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.

Boom. If that’s not Catholic, then neither is the Pope.

Counter-culture? We’ve got that down. This whole “Catholic, Jesus, not-being-pagan-or-Jewish” thing was illegal for the first 300 hundred years of it’s existence–and it hasn’t exactly been the “in-thing” for much time since then. Rule of thumb; you know you’re a part of a counter-culture when you get beheaded, burnt alive, or crucified for your very involvement in that culture.

St. Thomas More

Independent thinking? We do that, too. When the English government did this whole thing where King Henry VIII tried to claim authority over the Church–basically making himself more important than the Pope — Saint Thomas More — was not having it. This was a pretty big pickle, since Thomas More was himself was Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain (don’t worry, I don’t know what that means either). When it came out that Sir Thomas was actually going to be faithful to Holy Catholic Church, the locked him up in London Tower for a year and then beheaded him. I’d say that’s independent thinking.

Progressive politics? This one is easy. First of all, Jesus got himself into a lot of trouble for hanging out with the wrong crowds. In Jesus’ time, everyone was shoved into a nice and neat social class with essentially no chance of rising up, but a pretty good chance of falling down. The thing was, if you were in class D, you were alright, but you didn’t bother class A or B, and you had to straight-up avoid class E-Z. Jesus kind of ignored that whole concept. He hung out with tax-collectors–class C-ish–and lepers–probably class Z. Back then, that sort of thing really rubbed people the wrong way. No wonder they killed him, eh?

Caravaggio - Martirio di San Pietro

Appreciation of art? This is awesome, Catholics basically invented art. That might be a stretch, but hear me out. When you go to Europe, there’s no tour called “Discovering the Art of Ancient Atheists.” Point being, for 2,000 years Catholics have been building enormous glowing edifices that reflect the glory and beauty of God. Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio; all artists who built, sculpted, and painted glorious works in attempt to show the splendor of the Heavens.

Creativity, intelligence, and witty banter? Catholics are great at that. Just recently, the Holy Father created 22 new Cardinals, including 2 Americans. One of the Americans among the elect was Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, former Archbishop of Milwaukee. He was fortunate enough to bring his dear mother along to Rome for the ceremony. When he introduced her to the Holy Father, Papa Bene looked at her and said, “You look too young to be the mother of a Cardinal!” With the blink of an eye, Mrs. Dolan quipped, “Is that an infallible statement, Holy Father?” Catholic wit and intelligence has dominated the field of intellectual study throughout the entire history of the Church. St. Justin, St. Augustine, Bl. Duns Scotus, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ignatius, G.K. Chesterton, St. Edith Stein, Pope John Paul II — in nearly every century since the death of Christ, there has been a Catholic mind that has sculpted the intellectual pursuits of the time.

The great part about being super hip and super Catholic, is that all these complicated ingredients can be summed up into one. Being Holy. In today’s culture of death and hate, what’s the best way to stand out in the crowd? Giving your life to Jesus. Don’t believe me? Tell somebody at school you prayed the Rosary yesterday and see the look on their face. Heck, if you’re lucky, they might even call you “psycho” or a “cult-worshipper”. Don’t be discouraged, though, that’s just layman’s terms for totally hip. Case in point: it’s super counter-cultural these days to love Jesus Christ. The great part is that this isn’t just rebellion for rebellion’s sake. No, instead, loving Jesus offers us so many promises the world cannot fulfill: Eternal happiness, peace, joy, perfect love, and intimate communion with God the Father, the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the intercession of the Saints and Angels. All of that sounds pretty good, even if it means getting martyred for it.