Most Memorable Christmas - Fr. Bill Lynn

In loving memory of Fr. Bill Lynn.
Born Christmas Day, 1922.
Called home Christmas Day, 2012.

For many years Fr. Bill Lynn, S.J., was a professor at the Pontifical College Josephinum (Columbus, Ohio). More importantly, as my Mom's spiritual director, he's kept her generally sane (:) with all the drama associated with 7 children and over 40 grandchildren.  Tim O'Neill (The O'Neill Brothers- music on NBC, CBS, HBO, PBS, ESPN, A&E...) and I began to invite people to share their inspiring stories of faith.  Once a month we selected a story and Tim composed a beautiful, instrumental "soundtrack" inspired by the respective story. The resulting project was "Songs of Faith: 12 Songs Inspired by You."  

Fr. Lynn just happened to have the most moving story for Christmas. After reading it you'll see why. 

Most Memorable Christmas 
by Fr. Bill Lynn, S.J.

May I tell you of the happiest and most memorable Christmas I have ever had? It was in 1932 when I celebrated my tenth birthday (I was born on Dec. 25, 1922). My Dad, Eddie, my older brother, and I were living in the basement of a boarding house at 127 C Street S.E., just two blocks from the Capitol in Washington D.C.

Dad had set up and decorated the tree after I had gone to bed. When I woke up that Christmas morning I rushed to the Christmas tree to see what presents I might have received. But as I looked and searched I was puzzled and did not know what to think. All I saw beneath the tree was a tiny brown paper bag, in which I found five tiny pieces of penny candy.

I began slowly to eat the candy, while I waited, thinking that Dad, who was in the kitchen, would now bring in the big present I dreamed of. I waited, and then looked toward the kitchen where I could see Dad seated at the kitchen table, his head buried in his hands. I did not understand what the depression meant or what it meant that Dad was out of work. I could see he was very sad, and I knew it was because he could not afford to give me anything else.

So I got up off the floor, went into the kitchen and sat on Dad’s lap, put my arms around his neck and, holding back my tears of disappointment, said as convincingly as I could, “Dad, this is the best Christmas I have ever had.” He hugged me tight and said, “Thank you, son.” To my own surprise, those words did make it the best and happiest and most memorable Christmas I have ever had.

Beyond words, thank you Fr. Bill. You remain with us, pave the way for us... we eagerly anticipate the day of our reunion. We pray that your soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through God's abundant mercy, rest in peace. Christ's Mass blessings!

Tim tells me that of the nearly 30 CD's they've recorded, this is his favorite.  It really is beautiful. Please consider going HERE to preview the music and corresponding stories. For a short time you can purchase 10 CD's for only $67.00 (that's under $7/each!)- beautifully packaged with the corresponding booklet of stories! Proceeds are directed toward this family movement. Thank you, and God bless!   

Join us for Presence for Christmas - a four week journey into the heart of Christmas! Calling All Families! Please partner with us in this mission.

A Dad's Advent Reflection on Captivity

By Greg Schlueter
Certain things make us people watchers. Like a rare family trip to the mall, for instance, particularly when the young, female contingency wants to stop by Claire’s. For the uninitiated, Clair's is the “you too can be a pop princess” store. Not all bad, just not our shtick. I gave it a valiant five minutes. Just long enough for my “no’s” to be rightly understood not as particular, but categorical. Then I found myself a nice bench just outside, regretting that I forgot to bring a book.  

Suddenly I’m surrounded. People. Lot’s of people. From every walk of life.

Let’s just say it. Unless it was some kind of unique "flash mob" thing, the majority of people are just not happy. No eye contact. Kind of an empty, bewildered look. It stands out particularly in the Christmas season. Noticeable are those with a glimmer of joy, a genuine smile, a kind word.

So, we’re not just talking an individual on a rare, bad day. One can’t help but wonder, with our unprecedented wealth and comfort, surrounded by all the material promise of fulfillment- and still evidently not happy, what does happiness
really take?

The origins of unhappiness.

In our home unhappiness typically begins with a brother simply being mischievous (or someone doing something mildly annoying, but let’s go with mischievous). He’s bored. Suddenly he sees concentric circles around a particular sister. Boys like gadgets, and there aren’t many in our house. He figures she’ll do. The button is pressed. She gives it back.  Within moments our home becomes an audio armageddon.

A small, little example paints a very big picture about us, and our world.  

When one decides to be unkind, the other is wounded. They become protective and defensive. Their soul, meant to behold greater things, is jaded. Now add over a lifetime numerous instances of unkindness. Seeds destined to reach for the heavens are overtaken by weeds. They choke off life. They become a defining, embedded part of one’s wiring. We lose our sensitivity. We become callous. We find ourselves in captivity.

Here’s the thing. An insight that can further ennoble our souls: Hurting people hurt people. Unkindness says a lot more about the unkind person than anyone else.

And captivity is contagious. All it takes is something as small as someone cutting us off the road and we’ve likely been infected. Even if only for a moment, we become carriers, ready to pass it along to the next person. Now blow this up on the grand scale of human experience. Multiple times. Deeper levels. And is this not what we see played out every day in individual souls, extended to relationships, families, schools, places of work... nations?  

Look within. Look around. Are we not a people being held captive? Do we not need to be set free?

Freedom. At the heart is an awareness that our souls were fashioned for greater things. God didn't make our souls for junk. He didn't make us to be jaded. He didn't make us to be closed, protective, defensive or on edge. He gave us appetites for greater things. Though it’s obvious, it needs to be stated. We are what we eat. If we’re “eating” junk, we’re going to
be unhappy. A steady diet of junk has the capacity to form us for captivity.
It really is all about image.
Miley Cyrus. Bill Gates. Harry Styles. Mother Teresa. Stephen Hawking. Katy Perry. LeBron James. Taylor Swift.  We’re not only bombarded with images, the underlying message is that our value is in our becoming like those images. Modern entertainment and advertising is really the successor of the first apple in the first garden offered to the first people. Forget your lame image. You can be like god! The object of other's worship! There’s a tragic irony here. What image could possibly surpass your true image? You were fashioned in the image of God! 

Now for just a moment, try to imagine being satan. The generic name “satan” literally means “adversary.” Consider his situation before he became so. You're one of the highest angels in the heavenly realm. Your name “Lucifer” literally means “light.” You are supremely attractive - brilliant and beautiful. You are gifted and tasked for the highest calling, leading the heavenly choirs to worship God. You have the capacity to arouse and direct the deepest sentiment. In short, you're the mac-daddy in the celestial realm. Now, all of a sudden, looking over the span of time, you see that the Almighty and Eternal God will fashion beings called humans...
in His own image! Even more, could it be? No! You gasp in awe as you see God actually becoming -- taking on the nature -- one of those beings!

You’re insanely jealous. You rebel and take a multitude of others with you. Note, your nature and gifts are not taken away. You remain supremely attractive, and you have the capacity to arouse and direct sentiment... to lead us in a kind of worship. You have no real power, so how do you live your vile contempt? You prey upon their weakness and seduce them with your great beauty, attracting them to alternate images, arousing their sentiment to worship alternate things, thereby denying their supreme, true, God-likeness.  

Back to us. God fashioned us for His indwelling Spirit. Yet, so many wounds, so many distractions have caused us amnesia. We’ve forgotten who we are. Advent and Christmas should be an occasion to recover this awareness. It's about so much more than presents, but Presence. And we need to do this while inundated with the strong, pervasive promise of artificial counterfeits.

I experienced all this one particular Christmas as a child. That year my parents pulled out the stops. We were inundated with material abundance. The excessive amount commanded our affections. It made promises.  Needless to say, it left me bewildered. Unhappy.

Now as a parent I observe this among our own children, validated by other parents: material abundance and spiritual abundance tend to be mutually exclusive. Put more directly, material stuff just doesn't do it.
After the initial jubilation, often we see the unhappiness manifest in a lack of gratitude, entitlement, self-centeredness, unkindness. Captivity.

If we’re perceptive enough, we recognize that excessive stuff doesn’t make our kids like us more. Doesn’t make them better kids. In fact, it does the opposite. It frustrates them. It turns them in on themselves. It insulates them from the capacity to truly be fed with the right stuff. It diminishes their sensitivity. It removes their confidence in our vision and ability as parents to help them navigate a happy life. It leaves their world darker. In captivity.  

Whether it be the Jewish people thousands of years ago, or our modern civilizations, the story is the same. When we’re in need, we are truly alive and rich with an awareness of God. Our prayers are earnest. Our lives are God-centered, directed toward other. All is right in our interior world. But then, with God’s provision, when we are blessed with an abundance of material things, our eyes are averted from the Blesser to the blessings. We become self-centered. In this, we are robbed of our awareness of God.

And so with captivity, it wasn’t enough for God to merely set us free in the material realm. In short, God doesn’t merely want to communicate with us. He desired to commune in us. He desired to give us His very Presence. We need to be saved.

Hear and understand the words of the prophet speaking across ageless time - the promise of a savior:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
release to the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1-3

Herein is the great gift of Advent. If we are mindful of our captivity, we might be saved.

The extent to which we’re not aware of our captivity is the extent to which we really don’t need a Savior, much less a Lord.  To that extent Advent is empty. As is Christmas. Disconnected from the real, transforming power of Jesus Christ.

Remember Christ our Savior
was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s power
when we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy!

Advent is an opportunity for more than religious observance, but a relational occurrence.

Make straight the way of the Lord! We need to invite the grace of God to help us go there. We need to open the door to those life-moments that left us wounded in a way that became chains of fear that have been holding us captive.

Imagine it.
Imagine what freedom looks like. Free from captivity. Imagine not being a victim to what happens around us, but being victorious because of Him who reigns within us. Imagine having the full freedom to be the amazing, beautiful, wonderful, unique person God created us to be. Imagine.  

In this we can more fully understand the victory of the cross. He was in chains, but completely free. He spoke not a word. He endured His suffering. He took all of our sins upon Himself. He forgave us. He set us free from captivity.

We don’t need to plug into lesser entertainment. In this ultimate drama we are not mere spectators, each of us are participants. For a world in captivity, He invites us, needs us, created us to not only be free from ourselves, but to participate in His mission of freeing the world. Emmanuel! God is with us!  PresenceForChristmas.comThis year receive the gift. Join us for Presence for Christmas.

"A Father's Love" - A Priest's Magnum Opus (Msgr. Biebel)

[Monsignor will likely be embarrassed by this. I'm doing it anyways. He understands better than anyone that showcasing a painting honors the Painter. This is about the Painter.]

He has been at the pastoral helm of numerous faith endeavors we've sponsored over the years - touching literally thousands of lives. He is a man with intimate understanding of this flesh-and-blood world and deep spirituality, which is to say, of authentic humanity. I know of no one whose life has not been deeply touched upon meeting him.

All this can be summed up in a word: priest.  This year Monsignor Biebel celebrates fifty years of pouring himself out to God's people as a priest.

If it's true, as it's been said, that each of our lives will be marked by one defining theme - I'd venture to say "Love of the Father" is Monsignor's. It is his Magnum Opus.

When we asked him to lead our last Made2Worship of this season, I did not expect that he would so beautifully and powerfully "bring it" - delivering the theme that has so evidently emanated from his life, defined his mission as priest- transformed the lives of so many others.

As Monsignor frequently suggests in so many words, "Love of the Father" is more than merely a message our frail humanity needs to hear, it is the underlying truth we need to know and believe. It is the antidote for a wounded and broken world. When you can find twelve minutes, please give yourself this great gift that is born of fifty years of priesthood. Listen and know the great love of the Father for you, and our special privilege and call to be His love to the world.

And if it moves you as it has so many of us- share it. Invite others to do the same, as the greatest power of a blessing is it's capacity to turn the blessed into the next blesser. May God richly bless you.  
Join us for Presence for Christmas, our four week journey into the heart of Christmas - led by Bishop Trautman, uplifting worship led by Daniel Cabanillas and friends - four Wednesdays of Advent, beginning November 28.

The Homeless Immigrant Family and Us (A True Story)

By Greg Schlueter

[ Article is the FULLER STORY / Video is BRIEF SHARING at recent M2W ]


Yesterday was a glorious day. Autumn was in the air. An armada of white, puffy clouds floated on a horizon painted deep, crystal blue. For our family of eight, it was one of those very rare, short breaths between frenetic summer and school activity. The only thing planned was church.  Stepping outside the first time I couldn’t help but take it all in and think, “What a gift.” Little did I know.

What are they doing here?

Making our way toward church we couldn’t escape a couple with two, very young children. They were positioned outside the main entrance with a sign asking for help.

The barrage of questions. Are they legit? Did I bring my wallet? What should I give? Isn’t this someone else’s job? Where is government when you need it? Is there another door?

Discomfort can be a good thing. It can break down the walls of our comfort-crafted worlds designed to keep us incubated, removed from those not like us. To keep us, well, comfortable.  

Reading the newspaper, I’m often struck by the ease with which I can so easily dismiss the plight of the world. Real people with real problems reduced to a page. All I have to do is turn it.

This young family couldn’t be so easily dismissed. They were clearly alone. From another country. The sign spoke of real need. A family does not subject themselves to such humiliation without some kind of need. Their presence commanded a response.  More pointedly, it wasn’t so much about me evaluating the situation, but rather the situation evaluating me.

What am I doing here?

In the next hour my words would profess God as the Supreme Giver. I would not simply petition, but avail myself to being His answer. In sacred ways I would enter into a holy communion. Would there be integrity to my “Amen”? Would my life judge me to be sincere, or merely ceremonious?  

A number of parishioners were moved to give some money. Joining them, I wondered, is that sufficient? I tried to inquire. In fragmentary English the dad expressed that they were Romanian and lived in New York. He had come to Erie expecting a job, but complications with a green card made that impossible. They had spent the prior two nights sleeping in a car. They needed gas money to return. I asked how much he needed. He expressed perhaps $150 or so - for the gas, tolls, food and such. There was an overall feeling of helplessness.

I took his cell phone number just before they were asked to leave the property.

Throughout Mass I could not stop thinking about them. My professions were measuring me. What are they worth? Again, am I sincere, or merely ceremonious? How far would I be willing to go? We have room at our house. Would we make that available if necessary? We don’t have many resources, but the amount we spend on discretionary things could very well be the amount they needed to get home. Which is of greater worth?

I couldn’t help but imagine. What if our situations were reversed? What if we found ourselves, for whatever reason, in their land? If we could not speak the language? If we had absolutely no means? I imagined my wife and children looking to me, depending upon me. Would we not go to a church with a sign? And if not there, where? The thought choked me up.

I had to follow through. After Mass, I had to find someone who spoke Romanian.

Amidst our Sunday brunch and activity, I kept making inquiries, hoping and praying for a return. After a couple hours I finally found a lead for a Romanian Catholic Church in New Jersey.  By providence, Fr. David, an English/ Romanian-speaking priest, answered the phone. An evidently compassionate man, he had given much in life to aid Romanian immigrants for thirty years.

Things moved quickly from there. Fr. David contacted our immigrant friends and called me back, clarifying the circumstances. With due skepticism, he expressed general legitimacy with the story. He advised that $150 should be sufficient to get them back home. I asked him to call them back and arrange for us to meet at the church.

Moments later Fr. David called me back. He reported that the dad, upon hearing our intent, could not stop weeping.

It all happened so quickly I had not given serious thought to the question of where we’d come up with the $150. A thought came to me.

My wife and I founded a nonprofit organization called Image Trinity. Our mission is essentially to invite families to live the adventure of family. By God’s design, we believe that family, in our capacity to love, images the Trinity. Our great mission is to reveal God, Who is love, to the world.

Integral to this movement are monthly events called Made2Worship. Words cannot describe, but here’s an attempt. As the sun gradually sets to uplifting worship, as the church grows darker, a multitude of candles placed upon a tall, pyramidal structure brightly illuminate Jesus in the monstrance. These candles are brought up earlier by participants.

This “Burning Bush” is not simply a powerful symbol of who we are, but of what we are to do. We are illumined by Christ to illuminate Christ.

So I remembered that we had “candle money” from people who purchased candles at the events. But would there be enough? I pulled out the envelope, and counted... yes, $150 exactly.  I was suddenly overcome with an awareness that all this was, and had always been, in the guiding hand of “Someone else.”

My wife and I mustered up some “travel food” and toy items and headed off to meet the family. Their well-worn minivan pronounced a likelihood that this was more than transportation.  My wife stooped down to the little girl and handed her a baby doll. Her bright, brown eyes beamed. She kept kissing her, hugging her, gazing at her, as if to be reassured that it wasn’t a dream.  

With tears streaming down his face, the dad took my hand and kissed it multiple times. He did the same for my wife. He was overwhelmed. In gestures and fragmented words, he repeatedly expressed the best way he could his gratitude, that they would be praying for us.

So, at the end of the day, am I 100% convinced that their story is legit? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that God did His thing. He knew. He put it altogether. He drew us all to worship Him, to illuminate Him with more than mere candles, but with our lives... even if just for one family whose needs in one moment we would never fully understand.

At the end of the day I return to my first thought, “What a gift.”  I am humbly aware that there are the givers and the given. And depending upon the time of day, each of us are both.

At the end of the day I am aware that all is gift... and the greatest value of a gift is its capacity to turn the given into the next giver. And with that, I am so moved as a Catholic Christian to more fully understand that all this is literally embodied in the central sacrament of our faith, Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, whose root eucharistas simply means “to give thanks.”

Greg Schlueter and wife Stephanie are parents to seven children in Erie, Pennsylvania. They run a video production company and lead a nonprofit Catholic family movement called Image Trinity. If you are interested in helping them launch an inspiring messaging campaign and aid those in need this coming Fall and December, please check out

Christmas Presence Project 2013: Help Us

We're inviting you to join us in an amazing, epic journey into the heart of Christmas.  

1) Inspiring Messaging campaign. It's about Christmas Presence!
2) Events. Leading up to Christmas
3) Journey. Site, app and booklet.
4) Benefaction. Homeless. Refugees. Pregnant women.

Help us make Advent a major movement - a journey into the heart of Christmas. It's all about Christmas Presence. 
BY CHECK: Made out to"Presence for Christmas" 

Image Trinity / 5039 Roslindale Ave. / Erie, Pa. 16509

For corporate sponsorship interest, please contact Greg Schlueter at 814.864.5755 /

Parents - Where Do You Go After You've Gone Beserk?

Beserkdom. The place where people go beserk.

We've all been there. Of course, it never starts there. It's like a storm. And like any storm, it begins with unsuspecting, white puffy clouds. An unclean room. An outside door left wide open. Muddy tracks on the carpet. An attitudinal sigh. Add warnings. Add mouth. Add typical parental stress. And all of a sudden, walla-- "Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very, frightening...".  You're in Beserkdom. "Galileo!" (we'll get to him later)

You know you've been there after you've left. The storm has passed. Damage done. You're bewildered. Who was that? Was that really me? Of course, some of the clouds are still lingering. I'm going to drop-kick that kid! Sigh.

While I do think God gave us volume modulation for a reason, I don't think there's ever a reason to go beserk. Where now?

First, let's start with the positive. In a society where many think themselves the center of the moral universe, there's nothing like a trip to Beserkdom to bring us back to reality.

Like any other road, the road of life has definite boundaries. These are meant to keep us whole and safe. Going outside of them results in a crash. Beserkdom is a crash. It ought to remind us that we went outside concrete boundaries. It ought to awaken us to awareness that our inner navigation is off, that there's stuff in our own lives in need of healing, in need of transformation.  

When we think of ourselves we should think of a cross. We are both spirit and body. Note the intersection of the vertical (spiritual) and the horizontal (human).

The vertical (spiritual) realm is our "core," consisting of our interior attitudes, thoughts, emotions and feelings. Enter Galileo. These are like planets that are rightly ordered when they move about a center, a sun. Beserk happens because this goes haywire. It happens when we've forgotten who we are. It happens when the Son summarily disappears and all the planets collide. Thus, at heart needs to be an awareness of who we are, made in the image of God, fashioned for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

And if we're truly attuned to who we are, we'll recognize our need to cooperate on the horizontal (human). We have to do our work. We need to recognize the clouds, and be mindful of the succession of steps that pave the way to Beserkdom. 

Often hindsight is helpful. Think of the last time you went beserk and consider, "How could I have recognized it coming? How might I have dealt with that differently?" If in a stress-free space of calm and reason we can imagine averting Beserkdom, the answer is to make sure we have that space of calm and reason when we see potential beserk clouds on the horizon.     

A human understanding goes a long way. 

I have to remember the learning and discovery process, particularly at a pre-teen age. I'm mindful that even as adults we're all on a road we didn't define. The rules of the road we really can't break, only be broken by. 

In the grand scheme, we're all children navigating together. In the grand scheme, our children need more than words, they need our exemplification. Going beserk is being a victim. They need us to show them that circumstances where many may choose to be a victim are an occasion to be victorious.  There's nothing more powerful here than a humble, sincere expression of sorrow, followed by an apology- asking them to pray for you, inviting them to journey together. 

As parents Steph and I are aware of both the challenge and joy in our call to foster good, healthy, respectful conversation in navigating this journey. We desire to validate their capacity to conscientiously think and make decisions... to become aware of "the road" - especially at difficult times and about difficult things in a way that unites us in truth.

We're mindful that using words is not necessarily communication. Communication literally means "with union." It is measured by the degree to which we become one. Against this understanding, going beserk is an oxymoron. It is "communication" that destroys unity. 

We ought to be informed by our childhood experience of parents. We have experienced (directly or indirectly) what happens when parents pass along their wounds - through bitter avoidance, heavy-handedness, passive-aggressiveness, not mindful that these fester and diminish relationships. We're mindful that hurting people hurt people. We don't need to form hurting people, but healing people. We don't need to enable victims, but ennoble the victorious.  

Our kids, like us - need to know and understand that we are not the center of the universe. The road of life does not change it's shape for us.  We do not define it, it defines us.  In honorable and honor-worthy things- even if not completely understood, even if not easy- a "yes Dad" disposition is a building block for success in this world and the next - as it is for us in our relationship to God: "Yes Dad."

It's not about us. It's ultimately not between them and us. It's the mission of St. John the Baptist: "I must decrease, He must increase." It's the mission of Mary: "Do whatever He tells you." 

I post this publicly in hope and prayer that we increasingly become a culture of Godly parents-- humbly by courageously engaged in the journey, loving not simply our children, but all children-- that we are conscious of this highest call... and join one another in raising up children who are fully alive in knowledge of their identity, purpose and mission.

Government and Religion: Where We've Been / Where We're Going (Dr. Mark Jubulis)

A healthy democracy depends upon informed people willing to think, speak and act. In 30 minutes, Dr. Mark Jubulis gives us a timely, clear and compelling tour of the historical relationship between government and religion... where we've been and the critical path we seem to be on.  Please take 30 minutes to listen - then share.

Mark A. Jubulis is Assistant Professor and Chair, Department of History, Political Science, and Legal Studies at Gannon University. He was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Latvia.  This talk was delivered at the Erie Serra luncheon on October 8, 2012.

It's Necessary. Use Words.

We are a society very comfortable (tolerant) with the proclamation of sin, very uncomfortable (intolerant) with proclamation of the truth. In the latter, sometimes people invoke St. Francis, "Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words."

A few things.
(1) Look around-- I'd say "it's necessary";
(2) St. Francis was one of the greatest preachers;
(3) Invoking this is "using words" (clearly, we all challenge, the only question is whom / what and why);
(4) Silence and neutrality only help the oppressor, never the oppressed (Elie Wiesel);
(5) One's imperfection is no excuse not to "[p]roclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching." (2 Tim 4:2);
(6) The 2nd law of thermodynamics is applicable to the moral life-- things left alone will go from order to disorder (for evidence, I give you my kids' rooms!).

A civilization of love doesn't just happen. It requires being "built" - certainly in striving to live it - but also in terms of structuring that world through verbal affirmation, challenge, expectation and accountability (what seems to be decisively lacking in parenting today).

If we were as bold in proclaiming the truth as the world is in proclaiming falsehood (with the self-effacing humility that we are imperfect, working it out... that we did not define it- but it defines us), the world might have a shot at knowing the contour of the road and end this perpetual state of crashing.

Tonight's Controversy. The Real Debate...

Tonight is the great controversy. The debate. Just not the one you’re thinking of.

The presidential debate is significant enough. Let’s consider why. Many of us will be “plugged in” because it’s a drama over a balance of power. There are great implications. And we are in the driver’s seat. We’re given determinative power. For that we will be held accountable. We ought to be invested.

It moves me to consider how vested I am in the greatest drama over a balance of the greatest power.

How vested are we in the debate in our own souls and the soul of our marriages and families? Are there not great implications? Are we not in the driver’s seat? Given determinative power in the seeking? For which we will be held accountable?

Is it enough to merely call ourselves Catholic, indeed, even to “do” the Catholic “thing”?

Recently homecoming took place for Catholic high schools. Events such as these put the question of our real Catholicity on center stage. For whatever reason, during this week I was privy to culture among some parents and students: Where the F-word was used casually and common. Where many parents assumed their kids were going to have sex, or drink, and advised them… indeed, in some cases provided for them, accordingly.

This would be Judgment if I stood back in self-righteous indignation, not mindful of my own absolute imperfection, absolute dependency upon God… without awareness of my complicity in all this.

Yes, my complicity.

Beyond words and actions which come so easily, does my life give reason for others to believe in the REAL, relevant, transforming, life-giving, all-consuming power of Jesus Christ alive in our faith? Or merely paint a picture of “yada, yada”? No one needs yada, yada.

We readily acknowledge God as the source of all power, but what do our real-life commitments reveal about what we really believe? About whom or what is really our lord? Whom or what are we allowing to parent our children? In our homes, how do we spend our time? How do we speak to one another? What do we allow to be viewed and heard? More importantly, what vision and values do we model and place before our children?

One of the best indications of where we really stand is our calendar. What makes it to our calendar, worthy of commitment? What does it reveal about our priorities? About our real lord? What are these priorities really accomplishing for us of meaningful, enduring value?

Our Spirit-inspired, loving Shepherd, Pope Benedict, has been using his crosier (the shepherd’s staff) on many of us who, in spite of our external “look,” really are the lost one away from the 99: Our lives may exhibit all the formal commitment of faith, but under the hood— in the realm of our desires, translating to commitments, translating to the totality of our lives - are we really Catholics? (read his Jesus of Nazareth series)

I am so challenged… so moved… to bridge the great divide between what I profess and who I really am. I recognize my incompleteness, my imperfection, my failure. I recognize the implications for my marriage, family, community. I want to see these integrated. Whole. Holy.

This is a new moment.

For those of us who live in Erie, the ordination of our new bishop is an invitation to pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Not just in some conceptual idea of “church”, but in our personal lives.

If we are to be the real deal Catholic Christians, faith must be more than external behavior compliance. More than memorized motions. More than a moment. More than filling pews. More than self-perpetuation. More than what’s easy. More than a cliche. More than a club. More than a culture. More than a job.

Ironically, many leave church because they intuitively know there's MORE... but are given little reason to believe leaders are conscious and MISSION MOTIVATED by the MORE... a MORE that has the capacity to command the totality of energy, talent, innovation, genius, resources of one's life.

If not, why bother?

An authentic encounter with the MORE impels one to give ALL. If that is not happening... if it does not define the totality of purpose... of every message, program and resource- if it does not ignite, unite and motivate every individual to give the best they have for that purpose, then we are merely spinning wheels... perpetuating a vision of Christ as dead man's bones.

Show me leaders (priests, parents, people) who are... who seek to be... ALL IN because they have encountered the real, relevant, defining, all-consuming, transforming power of Christ ... and we will see the Church... the world, FULLY ALIVE!

The heart is the encounter. If we authentically encounter Jesus Christ, TRULY encounter Him - we can not help but fall in love with Him and live for Him... see Him in who we are, who informs all we are to do.

And so we began Made2Worship. It’s not our innovative idea. It’s not about the worship, word and witness - but an encounter with Him. Jesus is on center stage. We need Him. He's REAL. He promised, “Upon this ROCK I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18). He wants to ROCK our lives, ROCK our families, ROCK this place.

Come join us tonight. 7pm. Confession begins at 6:30 p.m. (M2W is the first Wednesday of every month. Pray about marking your calendar.)

An Open Letter to Sean Wiley


Pennsylvania State Senate Candidate Sean Wiley:

You just passed by our home. Your daughter gave us your literature. You have a beautiful family, and it's evident family is important to you... and your Catholic faith.

Needless to say, there's nothing in your literature or on your website about your position with regard to abortion, nor about your being endorsed by Planned Parenthood. Such an endorsement can only be 
obtained by your sponsorship of legal abortion, and expectation that it be funded by us.

Are you acquainted with Planned Parenthood, it's history and present activity deriving from eugenic roots which were proclaimed on it's first masthead, "More from the fit, less from the unfit"? Do you understood its disproportionate pro-abortion work in minority areas (if killing unborn children isn't enough)? Do you believe citizens should be compelled to fund much of this activity through our tax dollars? Planned Parenthood does.

By seeking and accepting their endorsement, you're on record as believing the same.

It's evident you are running as a family man. The image is there. But what does it mean to be a father? On the most basic level, how did you feel the first time one of your beautiful children got hurt, or felt any kind of pain? Is it not our most God-given quality to take care of others, indeed, to do what we can to prevent harm (whether they're aware of it or not)? If a government does not hold this most basic objective, what does it have?

But with abortion we're not merely speaking of "harm." It seems to me the most innate, built-in quality of a father (and government) is to defend human life, particularly innocent human life-- a fact not even the pro-choice people deny with regard to abortion (Faye Wattleton, past president of PP: "Women aren't stupid... they've always known a life is there").

Let's get beyond mere belief. What are we talking about?

Modern science has made this even more clear. The only physiological difference between who you are now and who you were at conception is nutrition and environment over time.

Did you know an unborn child's heart begins to beat 18 days after conception, often before a mother even knows she's there? That brain waves are detected as early as six weeks? An abortion ends "this" - a living human being who very much feels excruciating pain.

Did you know that over 4000 unborn children are killed a day in this country? Over 55,000,000 since 1973-- more than all wars combined?

A civil society must ask: What is the value of one's liberty or pursuit of happiness if it is at the expense of another's life?

Clearly, "oughts" are the basis of government, and are predicated of philosophical systems of belief. As you must know, our system is very much predicated of the good of the human person, accessible to common sense and reason, but articulated and grounded in Judeo-Christian tradition.

Against this tradition - Abortion, a right to kill (let's call it what it is) - was founded on the very tenuous "right to privacy" - in the "shadows" (penumbra) of the Constitution (Griswald, Roe, etc.), which struck down the free will of the people in all states, making it legal for nine months of pregnancy, for any reason.

You have suggested on a few occasions that your "Catholic" position derives from consultation with the Sisters of St. Joseph and Fr. Denis. They are greatly confused in this matter - as are you, if they are your sole basis of justifying your position on Catholic grounds. It is thoroughly indefensible, and even grounds for excommunication (which is not so much a punishment as it is a matter of integrity - that one is not in line with Church teaching).

Abortion does not serve women any more than would allowing them to take narcotics.

Recently I returned from a two-day conference hosted by Bethesda Healing Ministry- an organization founded by my mother - and now expanding throughout the U.S. - committed to healing of women who have suffered from abortion. This is where we belong. Working toward laws that are just for all... and loving all to embrace those truths for the good of their nature.

As it stands your intent as a candidate is to use a God-given power to allow destruction of God's greatest gift. Is this the legacy you want to leave your children and their world?

It is a lack of integrity - indeed, cowardly, that your position in these critical regards remains hidden. It's in this arena principals are tested... character revealed... if you do not embrace the fundamental precept that life precedes liberty and pursuit of happiness, that this is our highest objective as a society, if you disagree, at least have the integrity to come out with it.

Greg and Stephanie Schlueter

My Personal Story: Understanding Fr. Benedict Groeschel's Comments

(Base Story Here)

Before sharing my story, it must be stated emphatically that child sex-abuse victims are victims.  Period.  To suggest otherwise is unconscionable. To excuse the culpability of an adult, much less a priest – indeed, to suggest the power, and thus blame, is in the hands of a child is a catastrophic failure of perspective and judgment. The only thing that could exacerbate this further is if such a meaning is intended and communicated by a respected Catholic priest having the highest academic degrees and experience in this arena.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel said, "People have this picture in their minds of a person planning to -- a psychopath. But that's not the case. Suppose you have a man having a nervous breakdown, and a youngster comes after him. A lot of the cases, the youngster -- 14, 16, 18 -- is the seducer."

I knew Fr. Benedict quite well, and share this as part of my own endeavor to grapple with this.

Prior to my current place in life as a husband and father of seven, I spent a number of years discerning a call to the priesthood.  Back in the early 90’s I was leading a North American evangelization outreach.  I knew more serious discernment of priesthood would require my stepping back and getting away from it all.  One of the first stops along that journey was by invitation of Fr. Benedict Groeschel.  As a Catholic “rock star” who had touched thousands through his books, retreats and multimedia- this was a special opportunity.

So, at the age of 22, and characteristic of my "all in" wiring- I gave away most of my possessions and resolved to do menial tasks as a "maintenance guy" around Trinity Retreat - which is the Spiritual Center of the Archdiocese of New York under Fr. Benedict’s direction. While there I would spend time praying and discerning.

I was truly blessed by my time with Fr. Benedict. We had frequent conversations over  meals, walks, and driving him to his frequent speaking engagements and retreats.

While an aside, I do have to share a brief story.

As a younger man my love of fast driving resulted in forfeiture of my license - six months after getting it. Needless to say, a few years tempered me. So I arrive at Trinity Retreat, and Fr. Benedict asks me to drive him into New York City where he was giving a talk.  How would you drive? Having the reputation of a saint blended with a Gandalf-like sagacity, beard and habit included, I thought I'd keep everything within limit.  I guessed wrong. I noticed he was fidgety, and could not figure out why. In his distinctive, Jersey accent, he exhorted me: "Gregory... if you're going to get us there, you've gotta put the peddle to the metal."

Ok then. I dusted of a corner of my mid-adolescence and kicked it in, weaving in and out of crazy, NYC traffic. I resisted the temptation to tune in a rock station and crank it up. Wouldn't you know it, I could tell his tension was gone. Within moments his seat was back and he was fast asleep!   That was just one of many wonderful, human stories throughout that year.

Swinging back. I want to make it emphatically clear:  never once, in any way, did I ever even wonder of the possibility of moral impropriety from Fr. Benedict. Nor to this day. My many stories have one, common theme:  Fr. Benedict is a genuinely good, saintly man, a renaissance man, with an evident love and compassion for everyone.  He had genuine sensitivity, but had a Jersey "man's man" quality about him. Fr. Benedict knew a multitude of people by name, and attended to the smallest need of the most “inconsequential” person.

It was perhaps a few weeks into my stay that I became more aware of Fr. Benedict’s “special” calling… a term used in the spiritual realm as one might speak of “Special" Forces in the physical realm.  While many priests and religious sought Fr. Benedict for “ordinary” spiritual direction, he was the recognized “go to” spiritual guide in helping those in “serious trouble.”  It was a kind of warfare for which Fr. Benedict was the spiritual Special Force.

So here’s the hinge to understanding: Fr. Benedict was privy to the heart beyond the headlines.

As a trained psychologist within the Catholic tradition, he didn’t have the convenience the rest of us have of packaging up a person’s totality in a newspaper article; Fr. Benedict was charged to open a door and go in. He was charged to be a doctor to these souls.  His mission was to heal.  At the very heart, that meant a high degree of connection, empathy and love – of understanding what was going on in spiritual places most of us could only imagine.  To this end it seemed he was always in prayer, often with a heavy sense of anguish.

And so with today’s news about him, I can’t help but inquire: Which of us have not connected, loved, in a way that has made us sympathetic to a fuller, human realm of circumstances?

Of course, sympathy and excuse are very distant shores. So please understand, in no way do I excuse his excusing priests, much less deferring blame to the victims.  I am shocked.  I’m merely endeavoring to understand.  And what I can vaguely perceive is that Fr. Benedict had privy to the inner sanctuary of very wounded souls; he came to understand their histories, what factored into their dispositions, what led to actions. In there, I can only imagine the ease with which objectivity is compromised- as he heard priests speak of seductive factors they perceived to emanate from the victims.

Fr. Benedict perhaps gave us insight into a realm most of us are blessed not to understand. But try. Isn’t it possible to imagine the likelihood of someone projecting their own concupiscent desire upon the object of their desire?  While very different in gravity, this is the same mechanism that drives much of the porn industry.  Porn is a culturally “acceptable” way one person uses another, driven entirely by a kind of seduction. Principally men are seduced by the images (as a multitude of women are principally seduced by the likes of 50 Shades of Grey).

Of course under all this is a key insight from Pope John Paul II, that the God-designed heart of the sexual urge is the urge to completion. Think about that. The "mechanism" knowingly utilized by the multibillion dollar advertising industry, sexual urge / seduction, preys upon a God-given capacity for completion in Him! Imagine the potentiality if our built-in compasses were rid of the magnets and again pointed Due North?

At the end of the day, we all need to recognize the wound in our humanity – both the propensity to rationalize the use and victimization of others, but also our inclination to reduce people to the sum total of their mistakes.  How easily we put people in boxes, forgetting what that's like when others do it to us. Fr. Benedict and his community retracted and apologized.  I know that is heartfelt and sincere. In the grand scheme of things, he has given nearly all. There will be many, many souls in heaven because of Fr. Benedict.

I am moved to humility, to recognize "but for the grace of God, so go I." Let's see this as an occasion to pray for all victims, priests, churches, community - indeed, all of us who are working this salvation thing out- that we recognize our radical dependency on Jesus Christ at every moment and constantly seek to more fully embrace His transforming love and mercy.

The Unlikely Path to Joy

As a culture we've never been more comfortable... 
and yet depression rates have never been higher. In fact, the professional group that sets the cultural standard also sets the standard for depression and overall messed up lives (Hollywood). 

And yet we aspire.

Maybe, just maybe- the way to peace, joy and fulfillment isn't comfort... which confines one to a prison of self. Maybe, just maybe- the way is the cross... which opens one up to the horizon of Other.

I have noticed in my life the great depth, strength, wisdom and joy in the lives of those who have suffered (with their awareness of it being in Christ). They literally reveal God to me. Like the Velvateen Rabbit, they are real.

On this theme, think about the words of Rose of Lima - whose feast we celebrate today (removed "St." though she is-- too often I think "St." makes us think ourselves a great distance from their real, lived experience- quite the contrary is true):
"If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights! No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men."

"Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase Your love in my heart."

"Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven."

"Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty:
'Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.'"

"When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemed to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: 'Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from his own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions. We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep anticipation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul.'"

If you're suffering, consider yourself blessed to be counted worthy by the Father to share in the way of His only Son. Know you are never closer to Him than in your suffering. Do not look for an out so much as recognize you are in. In our weakness, He is strong. His grace is sufficient. Boast about it so the power of Christ can work through you. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Click here for more information about Image Trinity and our mission.

Gotta Serve Somebody: Bob Dylan

There's no such thing as being non-religious. Some homes showcase a crucifix, others, posters of a superstar.  Some find their faith and morality articulated in Scripture, others, People Magazine. Some worship from a pew, others, a bar stool.

We will worship, the only questions are "Who?" or "What?"

The default religion of our culture is "Pop." Pop "gods" hold up the standard to which many aspire. Wealth. Fame. Power. Stuff. They have it all, at least all we're told we should have.

And so everyone wants to be a superstar. We want to be known. We are wired to think our value is determined by others. Thus, the proliferation of YouTube and Facebook. Even for the masses who will never make it to the big stage, commercial advertising caters to this appetite, to this insecurity. You're the star if you buy these clothes. Go to that place. Do that thing.

So all this raises the question: What does your "god"... your religion... do for you? What happens when the pop-culture religion is proven empty, if not destructive? 

Neil Young said, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." And within pop-religion, so it is. Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston, John Belushi, Jimmy Hendrix.... just a few, now dead "gods" pronouncing the dead nature of their religion.

The truth is, what we perceive as most desirable, most of them pronounce as most reprehensible, even while basking in the light.  Proof? This religion has the highest depression, divorce and general destruction rates of any profession.  Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones) was living all those dreams and had the honesty to proclaim, "Look at me! Does it matter? I've been shattered!"

Keep it real pop-culture religion. Are we really having fun yet? 

So it should be clear that our souls were made to worship. And even more clear now that they were made to worship Someone. Flowing from our identity, every conscious act is a participation in a kind of religion. When we experience the emptiness from worshiping any other thing, there ought to be an awakening, a moment of honesty. Does it fit?

The highest pronouncement here is perhaps in the lives of those pop-culture icons who have turned to that higher place. Their faith invites us to consider that the greatest "thing" worth pursuing in this world is not the star of narcissistic emptiness, the bright stage of adulation, but in the transcendence resulting from relationship with Someone who fashioned us in His Image, for Himself... whose Star illuminated not worldly wealth and glory, but a stable and a manger.

Bob Dylan 

"Towards the end of the show someone out in the crowd...knew I wasn't feeling too well," recalled Dylan in a 1979 interview. "I think they could see that. And they threw a silver cross on the stage. Now usually I don't pick things up in front of the stage. Once in a while I do. Sometimes I don't. But I looked down at that cross. I said, 'I gotta pick that up.' So I picked up the cross and I put it in my pocket...And I brought it backstage and I brought it with me to the next town, which was out in Arizona...I was feeling even worse than I'd felt when I was in San Diego. I said, 'Well, I need something tonight.' I didn't know what it was. I was used to all kinds of things. I said, 'I need something tonight that I didn't have before.' And I looked in my pocket and I had this cross."

Dylan believed he had experienced a vision of Christ in his Tucson hotel room. "Jesus did appear to me as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords," he'd later say. "There was a presence in the room that couldn't have been anybody but Jesus...Jesus put his hand on me. It was a physical thing. I felt it. I felt it all over me. I felt my whole body tremble. The glory of the Lord knocked me down and picked me up."

If you get the chance, listen to his "Gotta Serve Somebody." Says it all.

Click here for more information about Image Trinity and our mission.

Pentecost: Big Question for Couples: To Whom Do You Belong? (Fr. Nick Rouch)

JOIN US! A 30 minute journey for couples...

What questions guide your marriage? In the following half hour talk Fr. Nick Rouch takes up Christ's first words after Resurrection, inviting couples to consider to Whom they belong. Please feel free to download the talk for playback on your media player (burn to CD). If you are not able and would like a free CD, please contact us including your mailing address. (If you are able, please partner with us in making this possible by your donation of any amount. Thank you.)
Discussion Questions for Couples: 1) What struck you most in Fr. Nick's talk? What challenged you? What inspired you? 
2) Fr. Nick begins with an analogy of a young boy whose understanding of the Pledge of Allegiance increased dramatically with age and the experience of war. How have your marriage vows become more real?
3) Sacrifice literally means, "To make sacred." How might that understanding better inform your understanding of marriage and family life?
4) Jesus joined the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. How often do we depart from spiritual opportunities discouraged, thinking we missed it? How does Jesus concretely invite us back into understanding Him to whom we belong? (Join us for Made2Worship :)
5) Do you talk about spiritual things as a couple? 6) What concrete commitments can you make - individually, as a couple and as a family - to more fully live out your belonging to Christ?

Please share with other couples. Join in the journey! This talk is brought to you by Image Trinity, a dynamic Catholic family movement committed to engaging families in the great adventure of discovering and living our identity as an Image of the Trinity.

The Former Lord of My Life: DJ RA

I remember a turning point "awareness" in my life. I was in high school. It was after a week of experiencing inner crud. It occurred to me I'd been listening to Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut" all week.

Note. As a family we prayed. We spoke of God. We went to church. But under the hood- where it really counts- I had enough memorized tunes in my head to run a rock station for weeks... to drown out anything else.  My inner playlist lacked anything that really spoke with my soul... that resonated with my God-designed, spiritual nobility... a capacity to transcend self... fashioned for His indwelling.

Our local rock station was branded, "The Rocking Apple." How appropriate. Back to the Garden. Shiny. Forbidden. Seemingly benign.  Promises so much. "Buying a stairway to heaven." Delivers so little. "But look at me... does it matter? I've been shattered... shattered."

I became aware. "You are what you eat." Applicable to my soul. What we surround ourselves with forms us. It defines us. It becomes the measure of our value. It paves our road.

At the core of this good kid - with a healthy life of accomplishment in athletics, academics, music, drama... with a spiritual sensibility... I was in inner fog, if not turmoil. Thanks to Pink Floyd- I was catapulted from the dark side of the moon. An unseen Grace catapulted me out of that fog-- a vantage from which I saw that I had substantially turned over the inner mic to the unseen DJ Rocking Apple (DJ RA). "He" wanted me 24/7... such a lust for my soul.

It's good to be wanted. That was the point of unity with the gang. It's good to feel part of something. It's validating- if not a very impoverished counterfeit to the kind of real intimacy and unity we're designed to experience.

From this vantage I saw that DJ RA's very essence sharply mocked the value of my God-like identity and capacity. It introduced a reverence for insanity... his only mode of survival... that we would seek to keep doing the same things expecting a different result. And so we see a sea of humanity doing the same things... again and again... with new and deeper emptiness... yet returning with unfulfilled expectations.

At risk of sounding cliche, it really was a kind of vision from heaven that pronounced this core truth: "You are what you eat." It was an awakening to the awareness that we were designed for GREAT "Food."

So think about it.  Think of the "vibe" we surround ourselves with in music, movies, TV, entertainment, gadgets, conversations that course through our lives... through our souls. What's it doing? Have we accepted a half-life as a norm? Have we forgotten who we are?

You were created in the image and likeness of God, for His indwelling Spirit. That is WHO YOU ARE! You were destined for GREAT things!

How to recover? How to awaken?

Perhaps like me you need detox. That's not easy. DJ RA is insanely jealous and will fight like hell to keep you. I knew I needed to do it. I had been living in a compromise state when - in my second year in college, I finally said goodbye to my "buddies." It took awhile until I felt released from captivity. Until I could hear the Voice again. It's made all the difference.

"Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Eph. 5:14) For inner planets spinning out of orbit, rediscover your Center of Gravity. He is the ultimate Rock star (Matt. 7:24f). He fashioned you for Himself. Made2Worship. Tomorrow Night. Spread the WORD.