All posts by Ryan M

Ryan M. is a husband, the proud dad of a one-year-old boy (and another one on the way!), a math teacher, and a recent law school graduate. After years of searching, praying, and reading, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil this past April. Ryan enjoys writing about the beauty and grace he's found in the Catholic faith on his blog, Back of the World (http://www.backoftheworld.com/).

Healed by Sticks (Or Why I Love Going to Confession)

I wish I could say that I’ve only been to the hospital once because I was bleeding profusely from my head. At least the second time it happened, some good came of it.

During the summer of 2008, I went on a two-week mission trip to Brazil. We went to Matto Grosso State, on the southern outskirts of the Amazon, in order to do a construction project for a mission school. Dozens of species of ants crawled through the reddish hillside dirt as we worked, and in the morning we were treated to wild parrots and toucans flying overhead.

One day, towards the end of the trip, one of the workers accidentally kicked a piece of concrete off of the second-story scaffolding. I felt a sudden whack on my head and reflexively bent over. I removed my hand from my head, only to see blood squirting a good distance in front me. “I should probably sit down…”

A crowd of concerned on-lookers quickly gathered around me. A Brazilian doctor came running up (he’d been helping out at the mission), and quietly examined the wound. He looked up at the missionary in charge of the work site.

“He needs Sticks,” he pronounced solemnly.

A hush descended on the crowd. The missionary’s eyes grew big. I started to get nervous, real nervous. “Sticks?” I thought. “What in the heck kind of Amazon witch-doctor nonsense are you trying to–”

“Oh!” cried the missionary. “You mean, he needs stitches!”

“Yes yes, stee-chez,” the learned physician replied, with a smile. I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

A short while later, we were at the local hospital. I sat in the waiting room holding a towel to my head, while a heated discussion ensued in Portuguese. You see, my doctor friend didn’t have hospital privileges in this particular town, but at some point they decided to let him treat me anyway. “Don’t worry, Ray-ahn, we will get you your…stee-chez.” He smiled. I laughed nervously.

The doctor took great care of me. Much better than some of my other emergency room visits, in fact. The hospital was so impressed with the fine quality of the doctor’s Stick work, that they asked him to come back. “Ray-ahn, I think you were supposed to be hit in the head to-day, for God’s Kingdom. Now I can come back and be a ministry at this hospital!” Sticks for the glory of God! I offered to cut off one of my fingers and drive with him to the next town. He patted me on the knee. “This is all for to-day.”

***

I’ll admit, the first time I went to Confession, I was nervous. I was supposed to go at some point before being received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass. I had only seen a Confession in the movies, and of course, that never ends well. Besides, how on earth was I going to confess 26 years of plentiful, deep, and occasionally-imaginative sin?

I also hadn’t met the priest before. He was a friend of a friend, a member of Opus Dei from Spain. I spoke with him briefly on the phone, “I am actually free on Good Friday, Ray-ahn. Can you make it then? Good. See you soon.”

My first Confession ended up being one of the most grace-filled experiences I’ve ever had. Father Jose took me through the Ten Commandments (I’ve broken a solid majority of them), at each point reassuring me of God’s promises of forgiveness. He offered me kind pastoral advice on my current struggles, and gently guided me through what I was supposed to say (I had no idea how to say an Act of Contrition). As he gave me absolution, I felt like a tremendous burden was being lifted off of my shoulders. I always knew that God forgives repentant sinners, but here was a beautiful reassurance. After he warmly welcomed me to the Catholic Church, Fr. Jose gave me three Our Fathers as penance.

A mere 20 minutes of spiritual surgery, and I felt like a brand new person.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori said that a priest hearing a confession “is not only a teacher, he is a physician. And his faculty to hear confessions is first of all a ministry of charity.” Going to Confession isn’t about being beaten down, or being embarrassed. It’s about receiving the forgiveness of our wonderful God. It’s about encountering the love and mercy of our Heavenly Father, administered by a doctor trained in that particular medical specialty.

I know that, to a lot of people, loving Confession might seem strange. If you weren’t raised in the Catholic faith, the idea of kneeling in a booth and telling someone what you’ve done wrong might not be very appealing. But often we receive grace in strange ways, don’t we? After all, sometimes the Kingdom of God comes by way of Sticks…

The Art of Over and Over Again

The curly-haired woman with the bright orange shirt looks up, gently plays a chord on her guitar, and for the third time this morning, kills a little piece of my soul.

Ooooohhhhhhhh Suuuuusssssaaannnnaaaa!!! Doooonnncha cryyy foooorrrr mmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

Children’s singers are absolutely merciless. And I dislike, nay, I detest, this video.

My little boy, Arthur, is entranced. He loves this video with a single-minded devotion. I do everything I can to disrupt our routine: I try to entice him with Sesame Street, Veggie Tales, Barney… anything rather than go through our requisite 3-5 daily viewings of Laurie Berkner’s children’s music. But every time, Arthur brings me the remote and points at the TV until I switch it back.

So with a sigh and a smile, I hit “play” one more time. And one more time, my one-year-old son giggles with delight as Ms. Berkner masterfully narrates one man’s epic struggle to come from Alabama with a banjo on his knee.

G.K. Chesterton once said that “because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Perhaps I ought to be ashamed of being such a grown-up.

***

Of the seven Sacraments, the Catholic Church recognizes only two when they are done by non-Catholic ministers: Baptism and Marriage. Any Baptism done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is recognized. And any Marriage between two baptized persons is sacramental. It’s as if those two are so crucial to humanity, so absolutely essential to our life as a species, that God goes outside of the Church looking for us, His lost sheep, bringing with Him only His two trusty Sacraments of new Life.

Pope Benedict recently had this to say about Baptism: “The choice of the expression ‘in the name of the Father’ in the Greek text is very important: the Lord says ‘eis’ and not ‘en,’ and so not ‘in the name’ of the Trinity like we say that a vice-prefect speaks ‘in the name’ of the prefect, an ambassador speaks ‘in the name’ of the government. No. He says ‘eis to onoma,’ meaning an immersion into the name of the Trinity, a being inserted into the name of the Trinity, an interpenetration of the being of God and our being, a being immersed in God the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just as in marriage, for example, two persons become one flesh, become one single new reality, with a single new name.”

I’ve been to several Catholic baptisms, and they’re always grand affairs. The child, whether boy or girl, is dressed in a beautiful white christening gown. Family and friends and godparents all gather around. Satan is denounced and cast out, solemn vows to raise the child in the faith are made, and, if we’re lucky, cake is served.

And after the bouncing baby is brought into the very name of the Triune God, he is invited to live life in an utterly predictable way. Sometime around the second grade, he will receive his first Holy Communion, just like all the other boys and girls. Sometime around sophomore year of high school, he will be Confirmed, just like all the other boys and girls. And if he persists as a faithful Catholic, he will go to Mass each Sunday, making the sign of the Cross the same way, kneeling at all the same times, hearing the same liturgy time after time, partaking of the Eucharist over and over again.

And it will be beautiful, over and over again. This life into the name of the Trinity, this marriage to God, is wonderfully, gloriously routine.

Weddings are pretty similar to Baptisms. The Bride wears a beautiful white wedding gown. She and the Groom are surrounded by family and friends and that old roommate that nobody liked but had to be invited. Life as a single person is renounced, solemn vows of faithfulness to each other are made, and, if we’re lucky, cake is served.

And then you wake up the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. And…

***

What’s the number-one reason given for why boyfriends don’t propose to girlfriends? Fear of commitment, of course. And what are they afraid of committing to? Monotony. Repetition. The doldrums of routine. They’re afraid of what it will be like to wake up to the exact same person, day after day after day.

They’re afraid that, after the millionth time in a row, “Oh Susanna!” won’t be their favorite song anymore.

But at every Eucharist the priest intones “This is my Body, which will be given up for you,” and every morning, I look at my beautiful wife, and tell her again that I love her. And each and every time is wonderful, an act of self-giving that never gets old. Maybe if we were just a little less grown-up, if we became like the little children that Jesus told us to imitate, we would grasp the majesty of the monotonous. We often say of the boyfriend who won’t settle down that he “needs to grow up.” Perhaps he’s too grown-up for the glory that’s on offer to him.

The Sacrament of Marriage is an invitation to the sublimity of the routine. Because Life and Love, Bride and Bridegroom, Eucharist and Marriage, are beautiful, over and over and over again…

[author] Ryan M. is a husband, the proud dad of a one-year-old boy (and another one on the way!), a math teacher, and a recent law school graduate. After years of searching, praying, and reading, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil this past April. Ryan enjoys writing about the beauty and grace he’s found in the Catholic faith on his blog, Back of the World. [/author]