Immanuel, God with us.

By Fr. Steve Schreiber

My sister was in the midst of a life mini-crisis over the past couple of weeks. With the situation coming to a head last Thursday, my mom and brother and I were in full prayer mode. Of course, as a priest, I get paid the big bucks to be a man of prayer. But admittedly, prayer intentions such as world peace and an end to global hunger got short shrift last week as I focused on a happy outcome for my sister’s crisis. And praise God, that is exactly what she got. Her situation was resolved in a positive manner and the family rejoiced. No doubt, we all believe, God was with her. He really came through in the crunch.

But what if her crisis had not been resolved in a positive way, would we have claimed that God was not with her? It is an interesting question. Most of us tend to be very good about thanking and praising God when prayers are answered in the way we wish them to be. Things turn out all butterflies and strawberries and we are whooping it up for the Big Guy. But when, despite our most fervent prayers, things turn out all stale and broken, then we are pretty reticent in thanking and praising. It begs the question, is God only with us when what we hope for happens?

This season of Advent points us toward an answer. “The Lord himself will give you this sign:” says the prophet, “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (Is 7:14).” The virgin is Mary, the son is Jesus, and Immanuel means that God is with us. That’s right, God is with us. He is with us when things go well, he is with us when things are a disaster. God is there when we achieve success, he is there in the midst of our failures. But God is always there.

As we move quickly toward Christmas day, let us remember how Christ entered this world. Our Lord came not in glory and power, with riches and splendor, but he came poor and forsaken, hidden beneath the hay of an animal’s manger. The world barely took notice. When it comes to me or you, might he not enter our lives in a similar fashion? We want God to be with us, but translated, that desire usually means that we wish him to come in visible power and glory. Solve my problems, Lord! Heal my weakness, Lord! Save me now and in a way I understand, Lord!

But what if he comes to my soul and yours, into my life and yours, exactly as he came to the shepherds of Israel: humbly, quietly, with no visible show of power? What if he is working miracles – now – and we don’t even realize it? What if we are so busy demanding that Christ solve our issues in the manner we deem appropriate that we miss his hidden work well advanced in the silence of our hearts?

Advent – with its scriptures, symbols and songs – reminds us again and again: God is with us. But let us look for him not in the orchard but in the desert, not on the mountaintop but in the valley, not where the powerful gather but where the poor can be found. Come, Lord Jesus, come . . . not on our terms . . . but on yours.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve Schreiber
Director of Youth Ministry and Vocations
Catholic Diocese of Erie
Reprinted with permission from, courtesy of the Diocese of Erie.

Please join us for Presence for Christmas - a four week journey into the heart of Christmas!

More than Apparent: You're the Parent!

A couple days ago I had great consternation over my kids' less than virtuous attitudes, tones and dispositions, wondering where it was coming from.  Once again I turned inward toward my soul and inquired: "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, help me understand from whence it comes, before I drop-kick them all!" And the "mirror" spoke back to me: "Aaammmm... you're looking at it!" Ouch.

It's true. Who we are as people is invariably proclaimed loudest through our children.  I add the modifier "invariably" because, clearly, our children have been given command of their own souls.  Yet for a parent who truly understands and embraces what it means to be a parent, we've got to look in the mirror.  I've been around many teachers in my life, and one common, little known truth held among them is an ability to predict much about the parents based upon their children.

So if you're like me, and you desire to more fully embrace your critical role as parent, I invite you to let down your guard and join me in a gut-honest, little tour into parental conscience and inquire of the "mirror."

At the start, let's recognize that we are substantially influenced by our culture.  For most parents, this culture is the norm (or the non-norm, as we will discover). Unless we want to trip, let's not set the bar there. We see what mainstream culture yields: kids without real identity, mission, moral bearing and purpose, discipline.... Let's recognize that we live in an absentee and surrogate parent culture.  As such, our faults are not so much in what we do, but in what we fail to do.  Let's consider who or what we allow to usurp our roles as parents.  In my observation there are generally two different groups here.

First are the minimalists, otherwise known as the baton passers.  For these, kids are a nice accessory.  A good child is one who requires absolutely minimal effort. Their kids are everyone else's responsibility. As such, they do what is minimally expected, but are all too delighted to pass along the baton to teachers, coaches, day care.  Note that it's not what they do, but their reasons for doing it: preserving their own lives with minimal intrusion from other obligations.  In short, children are not really an integral "part" of their lives, just part of their obligations. There's a big difference.

These make themselves known after their little batons are passed off on the first day of school, or day care. Sighs of relief and so many words essentially pronounce: "I did my job. They're yours now." Invariably even their own lap substantially involves cyber surrogates: cell phones, video games, televisions, computers, etc.  Of course, such "parents" are no replacement, and their kids show it.  Invariably, they're disconnected, distracted, undisciplined, short-tempered, selfish, rude, unfocused.  In short, they reveal who their parents are.

I know. How judgmental. It's not fair.  It's insensitive. People don't have the full story. This is the way it is.  Fine. But at the end of the day, what's the truth?

We've been given our children. They are the occasion for our becoming our best selves.  They deliver us from a prison of self.  They are our capacity for love.  Flowing from this God-given design, beyond obligation, we're responsible. And our choices reveal our acceptance of this design. They reveal our values.  They reveal us to be imprisoned or free.  And I'll say it again: some people sacrifice things for their kids, others sacrifice their kids for things. And the degree to which we don't "get" self-sacrifice is the degree to which we'll never find real self-fulfillment. Consumer culture is all too happy to keep us spinning like tops.

The second group are quite the opposite. They are the martyrs or, as often seen by everyone else around them, the door mats.  Their love for their children is pronounced in the degree of their sacrifice, in fact, a willingness to sacrifice everything... including the vision, structure, expectation, accountability, order, discipline (etc.) that are proper to love (ironically).  Like the baton-passers, while their  kids may be under the regime of all the same surrogate cyber parents (and reveal all the same shortcomings), these parents are beleaguered, grieved, at what this cultural scheme is doing to their children. They're tuned in, or desperately want to be.  Many are holding up a flag, looking for support and encouragement, real answers.

The rest of this article is for you.

Human development and psychology, biblical principals, success literature, biographies, and just plain experience pronounce quite emphatically that parenting involves a real terrain, a real map, real tools, and a real plan.  Healthy formation of kids doesn't "just happen."  Down to the nitty-gritty.  In my experience there are too many moms who are needlessly overwhelmed with their children's behavior. For you, here's an idea promising a dramatic, upward change in your life: You're the parent. God gave you this commission. You're the captain. You pave the road. Not them. Don't let them. Sound easy enough? It is. At least, easier than the long-and-wrong-suffering alternative.

As an example, when our six kids are too loud, we tell them to quiet down. Of course we all recognize that we have good reason to ask and expect this. The real revelation of parents though is in what follows if and when they don't listen.  In our home, if they disregard our request,  they'll hear one of us say once, "You're on probation." It's an odd enough phrase, but it means they've lost the right to speak until further notice.  We get immediate silence. Sound unrealistic? It isn't. In fact, we've even had a few dinner times when no one was permitted to speak.  Some have wondered what kind of great magic this is, and where they can get it.  The answer, of course, is that you have it. You're the parent.  BE the parent. You've been given a vision and responsibility of forming your children.

If kids are not cleaning up their rooms (for instance), a novel idea: expect them. Make them. Every time. Because it's reasonable. Because they can.  Because you love them, and desire what's best for them.  Because it forms them to be their best selves. Because it's the real world: life will expect them to fulfill similar responsibilities.

Don't be a counting parent unless "10" means serious business. Follow through with a consequence, right away. Every time. Without exception.  Why? Because that's the real world, and you want to form them.  See what happens one day when they disregard the expectation of a coach, boss, teacher, director. These will privately say, "I bet his parents could count to ten." Why should parenthood be any different? It's not.

In the practical example of the messy room, after giving them a warning and an appropriate amount of time, consider packing up everything not cleaned in a box (or room, or rented storage facility... :).  Sure, they may go without sheets on their bed for a night, or favorite shoes, clothes or toys, but privation of these things is far less grave than them going without a bearing in the real world, a sense of responsibility. That's your job.

Some of you right now may be thinking that things have gone too far.  You can't reclaim what's been lost. Your kids are different.  Don't hide there.  Question the cultural vision that may have some of you squirming right now at the thought of, well, embracing your parenthood.  From one parent to another, with the greatest respect and encouragement, I'm saying:  RECOVER YOUR PARENTAL BACKBONE! You're the parent.  You've been called and gifted for this task. And here's the often overlooked thing: deep down inside your kids are really wanting, hoping you will step up. Study after study demonstrates that they need appropriate boundaries, expectations, and follow through.  Certainly, the "passive parent" culture (an oxymoron to be sure) may label you as domineering, but do note that the very same are constantly complaining about the domination of their own children. Take your pick. Who's the parent? Who's called, entrusted and equipped to pave the road?

Be anchored in truth.  When you had children you became the parent. You received a call, an accountability before God.  If you love, which means you desire the best for your child, you must discipline.  That literally means "to make a disciple."   If you recognize parenthood is essentially the business of making disciples, you need to discipline. Certainly with love. Certainly with humility, and a solicitude for their understanding of the importance of becoming a disciple. In our home we're constantly conveying the implications. It's not about rules for the sake of rules. It's about our call to help our children fully realize who they were created to be, to become their best selves.  We truly are, and need to be, their greatest gift: God's presence to them on earth, forming them, leading them back to Him.

In the case of our "probation," we've explained that they've been given the gift of speech. As they've misused that gift, they need to rediscover the value of the gift, so they don't squander it.  They need to discover the implications of their actions in the environment around them (the essence of communion, and communication, which literally mean, "with union"). They need to discover the self-control that is so essential to cultivating real value.  Anyone can be a grain of sand. Our children deserve the directed pressure that will make them pearls.

Make sure your children clearly understand your role as parents.  Explain it constantly.  Strive to live it.  It's not about us.  In our home, if you ask any of our kids, "What's Dad and Mom's job as parents?" Any of them will respond immediately, "To get us to heaven."  And when we ask who goes to heaven, they'll reply, "Disciples." And when we inquire what that takes, they'll say, "Discipline." With that they have an understanding that ennobles our parenting responsibility in our home.  

A final but emphatic note to MIAD's (Missing In Action Dads). I'm going to be harshest on you, with four fingers always pointing back at myself.  You know who you are, or you should. You're a man, so I'll lay it out straight. In general, if over the past week your wife has dominated the behavioral and formative conversations with your children, and/or if you've substantially chosen to do 'your thing' versus spending interactive time with your family (discretionary time), you're a MIAD. If your wife has been conditioned to make excuses for your non-involvement, because she's accepted your absence, you're a MIAD.  I get it. You work hard all day. You have pressure.  You need a break.  Check, check, and check for your wife. Do you really love your wife?  Beyond words?  Love is sacrificing self for the good of the other.  That sink full of dirty dishes and the kid in need of a diaper change are there for you to demonstrate that "love" isn't just a word.

If your job was on the line and your boss brought you in and asked: "What are you willing to do for this job? Are you willing to sacrifice? How much do you value this?" it's quite unlikely you'd say, "Oh, whatever I need to do to get by." Well, when God gave you children, with every little challenge, He's asking you the same question. He's inviting you to be a husband and father.  He's inviting you to love. What's more important?

Of late there have been too many tragic deaths of husbands and fathers my age (30-50's). They left behind their wives and children. In the interest of a guiding truth, put yourself in this situation. You just discovered you have a life-threatening illness.  Seriously, what would be most important? How would you think differently about your wife and children? What would change? Finally, why should it take that to live it out now?

Here's my challenge. Believe me, I'm looking in the mirror on this one every day.  Think of this as the bottom of the ninth inning in the biggest game of your life. You're down by three with two outs. You're up to bat with two strikes, and runners on all bases. Those runners are your kids. "Home" is healthy adulthood. It's their hope and destination for heaven.  Step up to the plate. No one else can do it but you.  If you've been living in a cloud of selfishness, now is your time to be a hero, to get in the game. Recognize it's as much for your own transformation, joy, fulfillment, salvation as it is for your children.

You can change. You can do it.  The same stuff that was in 9-11 firefighters is in us.  We were created for self-sacrificing love. Heroism is in our DNA. Our wives and our children are our Twin Towers.  We're mission-minded, and equipped. Our families are our missions.  Then we die. Then we're judged.  We're responsible for far more than physical providing. From a biblical perspective we are singularly called, blessed and responsible for our family's spiritual provision.  Read Gary Smalley and John Trent's "The Blessing."  After extensive research, Josh McDowell proclaimed emphatically: "If my back were pressed against the wall to identify the singular cause of a child's behavior, I'd attribute it to their relationship with their father."  Dr. Meg Meeker suggests as much in her book, "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters."

Here's a practical "portrait" from our life.  Once a year Stephanie (my wife) travels four hours to spend a dedicated weekend with my Mom, sister and four sisters-in-law. That's opportunity for me. It's dedicated "Dad" time with our six children.  I love it.  I plan and set everything else aside.  Our lives open up to each other in beautiful ways.  It is extraordinarily special.  I bend the bedtime rules for the older ones. We stay up later and play games, read books, and watch a movie. Through the day we do many special things.  I make special breakfasts and lunches.  This year I took them swimming at the YMCA. We went for a hike. We went out for pizza.  It's one of their favorite weekends of the year and, believe me, we're looking for ways to do it more often (I've even suggested my wife do this once a month!).

I delight in my wife having a weekly opportunity to get out every Saturday morning for coffee with a friend or two, to participate in any number of spiritual or relational events throughout a month, to regularly go shopping (or etc.) without any of the children.  This "family presence" is a vision, a lifestyle.

Men- many of your wives would never even think to ask if they could have "special" time.  They are sacrificial, loving, and perceive it as a burden to us.  They've been conditioned.  If that's the case, it's a tragedy.  Hopefully you see the shame in it-- that your wife doesn't think your love, your heroism, to be sufficiently developed.  Look inside. Find it within you. Recognize the gift in your self-gift to her, and your children. Step up to the plate. Don't wait. Your days are numbered. Seize the day.

Yes, it's difficult. But isn't that what makes a great game? This is our great adventure. This is the contour of the road God has called us to, and precisely the potentiality for our self-transcendence, our fulfillment. And if the lives of the faithful throughout the centuries have demonstrated anything, it's this: What God calls us to, He will provide for.
We all fall short. That's where we need a Savior... where He enters. Let's be in prayerful communion with one another in striving for it.

God bless you and your family this day.

Greg Schlueter

Anxiety is a Summons to Prayer

Breaking through the electricity of so many swirling demands, thoughts and expectations, in the depths of my soul I "heard" clearly: "Anxiety is a summons to prayer, an invitation for God to resume His dominion in our souls."

Let's make the time.

Keeping Facebook In It's Place

Like most things, there are both dangers and opportunities with this newer, "social media" technology. On the positive side, how else can you keep a community of hundreds tuned into and praying for a child's cancer (my niece, Clare)? On the other hand, how many of us have been sucked into this world, only to glance up at the clock and be bewildered that we've been in captivity for an hour or more? What has been neglected in that time? How else might that time have been spent? 

Clearly, a human soul rightly working steps back and recognizes the "yuck" space is an alert.  We need to develop good norms, and corresponding discipline, in the interests of remaining the master of this world, lest we become mastered by it.  With Rock Your Mission!, the cultural outreach component of Image Trinity, we want people to discover that each of us have a purpose and mission in life, wherein: "Time is the currency of mission-fulfillment. How are you spending it?"  The cyber world is a poor imitation of real, human contact, and can diminish, if not threaten, the meaningful contacts we're meant to have with our spouses, children and community (for more on this, check out Cyber Insanity Syndrome).
We all fall short. That's where we need a Savior... where He enters. Let's be in prayerful communion with one another in striving for it.

Please join us for our next Catholic Men's and Women's Gathering.

God bless you and your family this day.

Greg Schlueter

Chernobyl Diaper and Parental Joy

As a two-year old, our Grace had a certain "gift." We were eager to get her potty trained, as were the garbage men (whom we're sure drew straws every week, or received hazardous duty pay).

Steph called from the other room: "Greg, do you want to change Grace's diaper, or run to get some milk?" Seriously, is that really an option?

Upon return, I was met with that "busted" look, or smirk... the kind that has you wondering what she knows, and which kid told her.  I searched my memory.  The look intensified.  I searched harder. It could have been a scene from "Everybody Loves Raymond."

So the story. Apparently while I was gone Steph was treated to a diaper of cataclysmic proportion... a DEFCON 1, Chernobyl Diaper. Though she was no stranger to diapers, she exclaimed: "Grace, this is disgusting! You're old enough to use the toilet! You need to tell us when you have to go to the bathroom...".

With her characteristically impish smile, our little, amazing Grace replied: "Holy Sh@$% Mom!" If that wasn't enough, she added, "I smell like BLOODY HELL! Go ahead! You can say it! DADDY DOES!"

I'm sure it was one of those moments as a parent when the right response was nearly impossible, because you're overtaken with hilarity.

Ok, so I may have uttered those words once or twice.

What's my point? Our children follow us. We are forming them by who we are. We are paving their future.  Their success as students, spouses, parents is being shaped in the present. The critical point is that no longer are we simply responsible for ourselves, we are paving their earthly and eternal destiny. Feel the pressure? Good. We should.

There's a famous study of two men and their known progeny. Researchers were interested in understanding the impact one's life has on future generations. One of these men, Jonathan Edwards, was a man well known for his outstanding Christian character and conviction. The other, Max Jukes, was an irreverent drunkard.

Edwards set the course for a U.S. Vice-President, 3 U.S. Senators, 3 governors, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 65 professors, 80 public office holders, 100 lawyers and 100 missionaries.

On the other hand, Juke's set the course for 310 paupers, who, combined spent 2,300 years in poorhouses, 50 women of debauchery, 400 physically wrecked by indulgent living, 7 murderers, 60 thieves, and 130 other convicts. The “Jukes” descendants cost the state more than $1,250,000.

The two big points here are (1) the practical relevance of faith in our success here on earth (it's so much more than external obligation divorced from real life!), and (2) the tremendous, enduring impact our lives have on our children, our children's children... civilization. 

As parents we're either going to be a thermostat or a thermometer. A thermostat sets the moral climate.  A thermometer simply reflects the moral climate of the culture around us.  So some hard questions: Who's determining the moral climate of your home? What you and your children watch, listen to, how you spend your time? Through these we are being offered food, and we are what we eat.  It's also true that for many there really is no norm, except what everyone else is doing.  And yet so many parents are surprised that their children are inconsiderate, undisciplined, rude, given to self-indulgence....

People often tell us we have great children. My thoughts are three-fold: (1) They didn't arrive that way (takes a lot of work); (2) If we let up for even a day, you would think differently, and; (3) I'm glad you didn't see them 30 minutes ago. I'm constantly aware of how fragile their moral formation is-- prone to this direction or that. So much more than learning a list of obligations, it's the bigger question of imparting genuine character-- that they deeply understand, own, become.

With children we are custodians of a future civilization.  As such, parenting can not be partial, or part time. In the most essential aspects, it can not be delegated.  By God's design, parenting flows from our very identity.  It is designed to break us from our selfish lives, to make us all better.

Quite often when people discover we have six children, they'll comment (to the effect): "How do you do that?! I have trouble with two!" The truth of it is, when we got married we accepted the simple truth that our lives are not our own. That means our money, sleep, energy, gifts, material possessions... not our own!  Each child simply puts an exclamation point on the end of that sentence. 

Herein is the great mystery of joy in life: we discover ourselves only by giving ourselves away (Matt. 16:24).  The most joy-filled people I know are those who live in this vision of self-gift. Family is thus the context of great joy. Self-giving love is the very purpose of family.  Our very identity, definition and purpose is to pour ourselves out for the good of others. In this we become who we are... we image the Trinity! God is made known to the world! 

On a practical level, realization of this joy takes more than an ethereal assent that it is right. It takes the vision and hard discipline, to structure our homes, our parenting, in light of God's design.

Recently we were in a gathering of a number of families, and the conversation came up about what our kids do. They were all absolutely shocked that we don't have video games, regularly watch television, give our kids cell phones (etc.)  And yet they were shocked that our kids were polite, considerate and conversational with adults, attentive during presentations and at the dinner table... that they enjoyed spending time reading "big" books, having good conversation, engaged in creative play....

The truth is while I am a proud parent, I'm not so in any way that is not accessible to any other parent.  Our simple norm has been this: Expect them to do what they’re able to do. Every time. Without exceptions. Without excuses. If we don’t, our negligence will become their life-long liability.

Let's get specific. Expect them to make their beds well and keep their rooms clean.  Expect them to be polite and respectful. Expect them to be intuitive of the needs of others, and to act on it.  Expect them to practice their pianos, to read good books, to have good, thoughtful conversations.  Expect them to have the capacity to find joy in life, to build meaningful, lasting relationships, beyond the cyber world.  Expect them to regularly tune out the world for some moments and be captured by God's real presence in prayer, and to connect God's presence to their daily lives.

I don't know how any parent, who really understands the great nobility of parenting, could look at a stay-at-home Mom (or Dad) and ask, "What do you do all day?" As if parenting is merely a bunch of minimalistic survival logistics!  With all due respect for those among us who genuinely, really need the assistance of  someone watching their kids all day, I have to echo the words of my brother-in-law: "We didn't have children for other people to raise them."  Particularly in this culture, we need to think long and hard about whether we're really sacrificing things for our kids, or sacrificing our kids for things.

So God gives us a great design. The bar is set much higher than culture. It is the path to genuine joy. But seriously, how do we get there?

When my wife's mother died at the young age of 39 (sleeping with her head on her husband's shoulder on the way to the pro-life March in D.C., carrying baby number 13), she left her husband to raise twelve children under the age of 18. He didn't make a dime over $25,000.  Many relatives encouraged him to break up the family. He refused. While things were hardly perfect, many around him were stunned how he was able to provide for them, even to put every child through Catholic schools.  When he died he certainly left us with no worldly treasures to speak of, but what he did leave us was of unsurpassing value-- a legacy of faith-- a living example that what God calls us to, He will provide for.
We all fall short. That's where we need a Savior... where He enters. Let's be in prayerful communion with one another in striving for it.

Please join us for our next Catholic Men's and Women's Gathering.

God bless you and your family this day.

Greg Schlueter

Hereafter - Are We All Going There?

Halloween is upon us.  You'll be hard pressed to find the proper meaning of this word, but it literally means "Holy Eve."

Even in pagan origin there was a respectful, "pre-Christian" understanding of human nature and relationship with supernatural reality. Yet, for most of the popular culture, this is the season of ghouls, witches, vampires, warlocks... and popular musician/Hollywood personalities.

While I have not yet seen the newly-released, blockbuster film starring Matt Damon (Hereafter - congratulations Matt on baby number four yesterday!), it's sure to provoke conversation, and controversy.  Is there an afterlife? If so, what is it like? Is there criteria? Says who?

Curious about what the new movie may have drudged up on the subject, I Googled "life after death." The search returned "about 234,000,000 results."  And to my surprise, if not shock, standing on top of that massive mountain, was a short, little video-story I produced two years ago (No. 2 on Google, No. 1 on YouTube).

First, some background before the main message.

Two years ago Tim O'Neill (The O'Neill Brothers - sold millions of CDs, Billboard charting music appearing on HBO, ABC, CBS, etc.) and I began a company called Keys2Heaven. The basic vision was to gather people's inspiring stories of faith and produce beautiful, instrumental music based upon the respective story.  The first, 12-track CD, called "Songs of Faith: 12 Songs Inspired by You," was released, and includes some of the most beautiful music you'll ever hear (Go here for a preview). The below video, "Life After Death - AMAZING STORY!", was the first Keys2Heaven story, told by Tami and her surgeon. The longer, 20 minute version is even more amazing-- accessible at

At least one, good critique of this video was allowing Tami's words to stand unqualified: "I know where we're all going... you don't need to worry about that."  In fairness, Tami is challenging our anxieties over daily concerns. Having experienced "the other side," she's inviting us to put our trust in God, to have confidence in a bigger purpose: "Don't live like you're dying, live like you're living."

Beyond Hollywood, the conversation is important.  Is "Hereafter" a guarantee?

If you've been to a funeral lately you get the sense that everyone goes to heaven, that the only criteria is "being good."  It's roughly equivalent to little-league sports where rules and penalties are optional, scores are not kept, and everybody wins. That may feel good, but does it resonate with our experience in every other area of life? Work? Home? World? Clearly, there are defining boundaries and rules, the violation of which has implications.  People get fired. Couples get divorced. Teams lose. People get unhappy. You get the idea.

Similarly, with regard to the hereafter, is there not reasonable basis to consider that there are defining "rules" of the moral life... a "field of play" so to speak, which shape the potentiality of our present and eternal lives?

Even William Nicholson, screenwriter for Gladiator (starring Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott), had Maximus exhort his troops before battle: "What we do in life echoes in eternity." This "pagan" sentiment resonates with the dominant Roman and Greek thought: There is an eternal realm.  We are fashioned with a particular design and purpose. We are given free will to determine either for, or against, that design and purpose.

On this landscape, this playing field, we discover the meaning of heaven and hell. Choosing to live for our design/purpose, which results in harmony, intimacy, union - is heaven.  Choosing to live against our design/purpose, which results in discord, exclusion, alienation - is hell.

Here's the meaning for us today. God doesn't "condemn" anyone to hell.  (Nor do any of us know the state of any other person!) God reveals and lets us decide: "Today I present to you life and death, blessing and a curse, therefore choose life that you might live" (Dt. 30:19).  We choose heaven, or we choose hell! What we do today not only shapes our eternity, it is lived/experienced in the present.  The truth is that many are choosing to live in the shadow of hell right now- not just on the level of some juridical state, but in their experience.

Contrary to popular opinion, God is the opposite of a dictator. He gives us what we love. And what we choose is what we'll live in, forever and ever.

Today one thinks "open minded" is being open to everything. In truth, it practically means being open only to self. In short, it means being closed... to any information, guidance (etc.) beyond one's immediate predilections.  In short, as popularly used, "open minded" is a religion of self. One is worshiping the god they fashion in their own image.  Of course, the supreme contradiction here confronts one willing to look honestly at human experience in every other way. Think all you want about that lump not being cancer, but beyond what you think, there is the truth of the matter.  Self does not determine reality. 

Let's be practical-- move from the proposition that there must be a shape to eternity, to something about the specific nature of that shape. In this regard, Christ proclaims, and human nature validates, that fornication, theft, homosexuality, contraception, divorce, abortion, lying, etc., are not simply some kind of "heaven litmus test list" given by a tyrannical God. These have to do with a choice against our nature/purpose... not as we would have it, but as we are.  They result in discord, exclusion, alienation. Invariably, beyond religion and faith, they reveal that we really can't break "the law," we can only break ourselves against the law.

And here's a truth that needs to be shouted: One's desire is not the norm for who they are, or what they are created to do.  There's not a human being on this planet who doesn't recognize the need to curb an innate desire or appetite, to conform to a greater good.  Does that make us slaves? No! That makes us free-- in the fullest, richest, truest sense.  Morality has to do with our happiness and fulfillment. Moral freedom is not defined as what one is able to do, it is defined as what one should do... in accord with their nature. Such freedom entails "ennobling limitation" - the very kind that shapes (defines) a song, art, words, values; freedom is not about being open to everything, it's about devoting ourselves to the tremendously valuable something

While many fashion themselves as "individuals," isn't it uncanny that so many such "individuals" look, dress, speak, act (etc.) the same?  In the end, we're all taking cues about who we are from something beyond us. We're all looking for guides. Billions are spent by the advertising industry on this conviction.

Ask yourself the questions- what guide are you following? Who's written it? Where is it leading?  For many, the answer can be traced to Hollywood.  So looking at the lives of the Hollywood pipers for direction, ask yourself, is that the life you want? Is that where you want to go? They statistically rank among the most depressed, addicted, abusing, divorced, suicidal, broken.  And we want to follow that script?

At the end of the day, we're all broken. We're all far from the mark.  We've all eaten of the shiny Apple, and forgotten who we are, and how we work.  Just as one might look to a manual to discover what a particular device is, how it works,  so we need to turn to the Manual, to the Designer of who we are. We need to look beyond ourselves. We need to question our wiring.

Our Designer is Love. We are the fabric of His Love. God-who-is-Love is our nature, and Love is what we are suppose to do.  In our amnesia, He gave us His Son, to reveal who we are.  And in Him we discover a life not open to everything, but a magnificent discovery of a defined something-- for us to either accept or reject.

And here we find that the heart of ritual is relationship; the heart of ethics is intimacy.  God fashioned us for Himself. And yes, He revealed the contours of that relationship (as any song, or piece of art, etc.).  We will not be truly happy, on earth or in heaven, if we do not turn to Him... seek Him, not simply in matters-religious, but in the relationship.  In Him, in His Spirit, we discover our incompleteness completed.  Guided by His hand we can have a tangible, living, breathing confidence of a continued intimacy "on earth as it is in heaven."

Today let's make the decision. Let's humble ourselves and look to Him.  Let's go there together.

We all fall short. That's where we need a Savior... where He enters. Let's be in prayerful communion with one another in striving for it.

Please join us for our next Catholic Men's and Women's Gathering.

God bless you and your family this day.

Greg Schlueter

My Simple Birthday Request...

The Short: We want to pray for your intentions - every night as a family. Please post them at Facebook Prayer Place (Sponsored by

The Longer: Really-- don't we share the same doubts? Our world offers us so much control, but what real control do we have? We believe in God, but don't we often question whether He's really listening? Perhaps we don't even try to pray anymore. Been there, done that... no effect... why bother? So we go back to practical non-belief, or deism (God is up there... wound up the clock... lets it do its own thing... doesn't much care for us down here).

In my heart of hearts, I believe God WANTS to make His presence known, but we're just too impatient, preoccupied, "in control" to want to give Him the opportunity. I'm speaking of myself here.

Ok... so... with all that in mind, on Monday of this week (October 4, 2010), in my personal FB post I asked friends to post their prayer intentions-- said as a family we were going to offer them up every night through my birthday (yesterday, October 6). We did. Little kid prayers are powerful. Only last night I didn't want to turn the computer back on for recall. Wouldn't you know, my kids remembered EVERY intention over the few days? "Hey Dad... the Mom whose son is struggling with drugs?" "And little Henry... remember... the antibiotics aren't working?"

It was the best birthday present I could ask for. It both inspired creation of the "Facebook Prayer Place," and our family's commitment to (trying to) do this every night... it's been a blessing to our family... WE'RE being impacted... beyond words I can express here. As parents we're giving them the gift of faith-- to see beyond the controlling world. We're connecting to that Someone beyond our control, who fashioned us, loves us, desires more than simply communicating WITH us, but desires to commune IN us.

Beyond the benefit of God's presence to OTHERS, consider what praying as a family will do for YOU. I'm inviting you to take the small step... carve out a "sacred space" (and time) beyond the fast-paced, controlling world.... Beyond memorized prayer, keep it real: "Hey kids... there are people with real needs... God wants us to ask Him for things... will you join me in asking Him?" Sure, they may think you're a freak... but keep it real... that sincerity will open doors to places you want them to go as a parent, in this world and the next.

Bottom line, we just want to pray for your intentions. Please take one moment and post "that need" for yourself or others on this "Facebook Prayer Place" page... I want to invite you to open the door again. God is listening. We just have to keep praying with expectant faith. And when there are any updates, please post those also....

Post. Believe. Trust.

May God... who is very real... bless you this day.

Greg and Stephanie Schlueter

The "Cover Girl Culture" Controversy

Ok, so my Facebook posts tend to range from fun family stories, to something provocative, meant to tap a nerve, shake things up. My latest post derives from the fact that my 43rd birthday is next week.  The grays are coming in. I'm not as able to leap a capital T with a single bound. A few weeks ago my back went into apoplexy just by trying to serve a tennis ball (never mind the fact that my competitor, my 70 year old Dad, consistently beats me).  Anyway, given the ingrained, cultural fear, if not indignation of "matters-aging," I can be playfully instigating about it all. So my recent post was simply:

"Steph and I were talking today... sharing our admiration for women in particular who let their hair go natural. It's one of those ways one declares to the world whom their (hair) Designer is.  No judgement here for those who modify, but just admiration for those who don't (literally) buy it..."

Within a few, short hours... a good number of comments and "likes," all from women, affirmed this culturally unorthodox view.  They shared concern with the pressures felt in this culture. One, however, did take offense, essentially challenging the point that what one does with one's hair does not make them any less of a Catholic/Christian.  Point well taken.

My follow up:

"Clearly, everyone here recognizes the 'courage' it takes to go au-naturale. Bottom line-- agree or disagree, it's worth raising the question - the degree to which one should allow a multi-billion dollar industry to 'fashion' (pun intended!) one's image/look... that goes for all of us... clothes, hair, styles.... For my part, I'm affirming the God-created beauty of women... against the predominant 'Cover Girl' pressures of this culture...."

Another of the women then commented:

"Greg, I totally understand the 'unconditional' love between mates. We love the aging process as it appears. But, ask Steph how she feels when she gets a new haircut or a 'Mary Kay' under eye concealer or a little blush, or a cute new dress to wear to church, etc. It's not vanity at all. It's just a woman thing... it gives us self-confidence and 'that' enhances the beauty within for our Lord. I hope you compute what I'm trying to say!... "ME" thinks 20 years from now you'll have a different opinion! luvnprayers..."

Before sharing my reply, for those who perhaps can't read between the lines up to this point-- let me note, emphatically, that I am not trying to advance some kind of controlling, fundamentalist, "cosmetic litmus test" for Christianity. That would be grossly presumptuous.  Rather, I am wanting to raise a point that often evades our consideration, but has important implications.  It matters not so much what one does cosmetically (etc.), so much as that they have both (1) a firm grasp of their truly beautiful, unsurpassable value/image in God, AND (2) that we are mindful of the real "image pressures" imposed upon us by culture, and the potential effects on the soul.

So my comment:

"You must know, sometimes I just like to shake things up and make people think. There are important implications here for one's self-image/worth. There's a call for balance in all this of course, yet I'm suggesting the cosmotized image is in no need of advocacy... it's assumed, lived, breathed, unquestioned; the corrective does.

"As a marketing professional, who also happens to be tuned into culture from a faith-perspective-- I'm struck by the fact that there is an understanding among industry professionals, particularly where it concerns women, that if they can associate an image with their products... engender insecurity - they create 'product need,' they'll be able to make millions... the cost to women's REAL self-worth and value where it really matters (their core/ spiritual identity) is, in my opinion, catastrophic.

"On a personal level-- along with the other boys/men of my generation, I inherited a pronounced 'Cover Girl' vision/image of what type of women are attractive. There's a book in the making here. From high school through college I dated many women who more-or-less fit this physical profile. While all of them had a faith dimension, my point is that (my) vision/image was crippled by being overly influenced by 'Cover Girl' professionals, and I note almost all of those women suffered from the pressures associated with that image... put them at a real distance from themselves, and others... constantly struggling for a self-purpose/realization they could not find in any amount of cosmetics, or clothes. 

"Seriously, think of the cultural/industry-appointed 'beautiful women.' Out of the spotlight (where it really matters), do these ladies ever really 'arrive' at the point of peace about their beauty? When?  For how long? And what is it dependent upon? We all know the answer.  And yet we're 'made' to chase that standard, to allow it to order our inner lives... why?

"Look around. Magazines. Television. The lived-culture of younger girls and women. Ask psychologists. Tell me we don't see an entire culture under the spell of big-industry.  They've set the stage, and many are buying the script... to the detriment of their own, inner sense of (true) beauty and value.  If we're honest, we're all fighting the battle in varying degrees. The search for real value, real beauty, has to be anchored in truth... in God's design. We're all getting older. Is that standard really worth chasing? How much is lost in the chase? Doesn't all this real experience punctuate that enduring self-value (and real worth!) is more than skin-deep... and shine a bright spotlight on the (false) inadequacy many women (and men) are made to feel? 

"So, I knew something was out of kilter, but didn't quite know what. Through a season of intent prayer, reflection, growth, while discerning priesthood in seminary, I experienced transformation... stripped of false conceptions so to speak, which was precisely the basis that I found, and fell in love with, my wife... in whom I discovered (and am continuing to discover) the real meaning of 'In His Image'... a priceless gift from God... way off the pages of Cover Girl society... with a beauty I think is truly physical, but transcending... connected at such a deeper level.  (By the way, for me as a man this has involved coming to embrace, celebrate in fact, God's less than 'buff' design of me!).

"Keeping it all simple- as a father of daughters, I need them to know the culture inundates them with a very false sense of their value and purpose... engenders insecurity... spins many women around their finger, none of whom are any more fulfilled, any more peaceful about who they are as a result of embracing their manufactured image; their REAL image - in God - can not be surpassed or improved upon!

"I have to believe if most women (and men) were honest, they would acknowledge, and resent this pressure. It's incumbent upon Christians to see it for what it is... and take it head on... seek transformation of vision: 'Open the eyes of my heart Lord....'"

[After writing this, I discovered an award-winning documentary on the subject that dramatically showcases the reality of many of these points. It's called "Cover Girl Culture" ( Below is a trailer. Please note-- no nudity, but there are provocative images that make the point].
We all fall short. That's where we need a Savior... where He enters. Let's be in prayerful communion with one another in striving for it.

Please join us for our next Catholic Men's and Women's Gathering.

God bless you and your family this day.

Greg Schlueter

Are you UP with Love?

REFLECTION - Are You UP with Love?: By Greg Schlueter

Why does this clip touch so many hearts, across denominational, ethnic, gender (etc.) lines? Perhaps it demonstrates something deeply embedded in human nature, something we all share.  We share a belief in self-giving, committed love... something that can not be seen, or empirically reduced, but we know is real.  We know it's the deepest desire of the human heart.

We experience it not so much as something we create, or invent, as something, or Someone, we participate in.  It's personal. It's intimate. It's all-consuming. In (God who is) Love we find our incompleteness completed. In Love we find a great, big horizon beyond what the eye can see.  In Love we discover and embrace possibilities that, to a scientific world, simply do not make sense... and more often than not, do not make cents.

And here, in less than five minutes, the journey, our journey... those whom we love, flashes before our eyes.  It should make us step back and ask, what's really important? What are we living for?  In the end, what will we celebrate, or regret? How important will the things be that are so troubling us today? I don't think it will be the promotion we did not get, or the thing we did not buy. I think it will be the love we did not give, or receive. And the best part of this story is this: the portrait at the end... you are painting it right now.

There are no presents that can surpass the gift of your presence. Give abundantly today.
We all fall short. That's where we need a Savior... where He enters. Let's be in prayerful communion with one another in striving for it.

Please join us for our next Catholic Men's and Women's Gathering.

God bless you this day.

Greg Schlueter