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The Question Posed, The Answer Given

Here I am flying home to spend some well-deserved, though I’m sure under-appreciated, time with family and friends. So where does this flight lead? On a human level, it brings me home to celebrate my finishing of the Pre-Theology program and of earning my Master’s of Arts in Philosophy and Religion. It brings me back to the area where I grew up and where I had some of my happiest moments, some of my most joyful moments, some of my saddest moments, and yes, even some of my worst moments. For me, it all started back in this area. From childhood, to being a preteen, teen, young adult, and depending on the day, a full-fledged adult. This flight has given me time to reflect on many different aspects of my life thus far.

Two years ago I left my job at Kennesaw State University – a job I loved very much. I enjoyed the people I was blessed to work with and the challenge of constantly learning and honing my skills brought its own satisfaction. I thoroughly enjoyed the many different aspects of my life from this time. Going to school, working in a fulfilling career, and yes, even working with teenagers in ministry. For many, on the outside, my life was perfect and complete. I was young, successful, and involved in everything one could possibly be involved in. Yet, two years ago I left it all behind – at least in a particular way. It should be no surprise for those reading this that two years ago I entered Mundelein Seminary for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. A decision that required me to give up that successful career, the awesome youth ministry position, and my own endeavors and desires. So many ask me, “Why”? “Why would you give all that up”? “Why would you give up a family”? “Why would you change when you are clearly happy”? Over the last few years I have reflected on these questions many times.

At the heart of all of these questions is a more fundamental question that always raises the curiosity of some, the walls of others, and the suspicions of a few. The answer that I continue to give is the one that I was given my first night at the first college I ever went to (The University of North Georgia) – one that changed my life forever. It was an answer told to me, in the deepest part of my heart; a place that had been unexplored and in disrepair prior to that moment. While sitting in my first dorm room for the first time, I spent a moment in quiet reflection. So many different things were happening and while they seemed to be of my own plan and desire, there was an overwhelming fight going on in my heart. That night my soul was crying out without me even realizing it, and before I even realized what was happening, He answered. In that vulnerable place of my heart, a single proposition was given to me. It took me many years to realize Who said it, and what He would eventually mean by it. In the heart of a 19 year old kid that was headed down a path of destruction, the Lord responded: “Evan, you can stay here. You can accomplish all of these goals you have set for yourself and I won’t stop you. However, if you stay here you won’t be who you were meant to be”. That one response changed my life, albeit not without a long road of difficulty, growth, and vulnerability. While this is a story I would love to one day share in more detail, I doubt you would want to read a book-sized article.

Instead, I would like to focus on where I am now. After finishing my first two years of Seminary and finishing up the first phase of my formation, I can say I am taken aback by how much support I have received over the last few years. My heart is full of love, gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise for the Lord’s invitation to me to take a chance on Him. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be where I am today. I have some of the closest and deepest friendships I have ever had. I have started to heal wounds that were either caused by me or inflicted upon me. I have slowly moved to having a heart of forgiveness and love while not being afraid to stand for truth. Ultimately the last two years have brought me freedom, confidence, joy, and hope. Four words I never thought were possible years ago. For those reading this please know of my continued prayers for you and I ask you to please keep me in your prayers as well.

This summer I will be attending the Institute of Priestly Formation (IPF) in Nebraska. This program is a summer dedicated to spiritual strengthening and is designed to give seminarians time to learn about and grow more deeply into a beloved son of God. I am looking forward to this opportunity and whatever fruits it may hold for me. Starting this August, I will begin First Theology at Mundelein Seminary and will be (hopefully) receiving Candidacy. Candidacy is a canonical point in formation where a seminarian petitions the Bishop to ask for his blessing and approval to move forward in formation towards the priesthood. It is a sign of a seminarian and the diocese coming together to work more closely. In many ways, it can be seen as an engagement. Where a man commits himself in a more particular way.

I say again, thank you to all who have been praying for me and for all of your continued support. I leave you with this…

No matter where you are in life, or how old you are, never be afraid to chase your dream – but don’t let the chase of the dream blind you to what other plan God may have in your life. How boring would life be if everything only worked out the way we had planned. God loves you more than anyone could imagine and has a plan completely and uniquely designed for you. The most amazing thing about this plan is that God only offers it to you. He leaves the choice up to you. No matter the path you choose, you will never be abandoned; and it doesn’t mean you won’t be fulfilled, but only God’s plan will make use of everything that makes you, you.

Never forget you are loved, never forget you are heard, and never forget that you are never alone. May God’s blessing and love be with all of you.

-Evan

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Saint Spotlight: St. Ignatius of Antioch

St. Ignatius of Antioch (AKA: The Fire Bearer)

Born: 35AD Died: 108AD

Patronage: Church in North Africa/East Mediterranean

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch who gave the church her name. When looking out at a group of disciples he said that this faith was Catholic, meaning universal. He realized that Christ’s beautiful bride in the church could not be stopped by different languages, cultures, or borders. It was all encompassing and ever growing. Besides giving us our name, St. Ignatius was known for spitting some hot fire. When the current emperor of Rome called him a wicked wretch he replied, “How can I be wicked when I have Christ in me?” When the emperor condemned him to death he praised the Lord saying, “I thank you, O Lord, that You have granted to honour me with a perfect love towards You.” He was also quoted with saying, “I would rather die for Christ than rule the whole earth,” and, “Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips, and the world in your hearts.” St. Ignatius of Antioch is a beautiful example to us that we should be overjoyed to unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ. We should all choose to be martyrs for our faith everyday, whether that means voicing an unpopular doctrine, loving the unlovable, or forgiving the unforgivable. Lift up your cross and unite your toil, your pain, you distress with that of Christ.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Pray for us.

 

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We Were Meant to Thrive!

Lately I’ve been thinking and I have come to the realization that I live every day just waiting for it to be over. When I get my work schedule every Sunday I think of just getting done working and getting to Sunday ’cause that’s a day off for me. I went with The Mobile Mission to help with the Spirit Alive Youth Conference in Missouri recently and the theme was “Thrive”. The theme song was Thrive by Casting Crowns and it says that “we were made for so much more than ordinary lives, we were meant to thrive”. Throughout the weekend we kept hearing about how God didn’t make us to just wait for the next thing. The “if I can only get through this day, if I could only get done with this class, if I could only get through this week” attitude is not what we were created for.

It is stated in Psalm 34:8

        “O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!”

The Lord is so good to us. We truly are blessed to even have Him to turn to.  As humans I think we all naturally take advantage of what we have. Have you ever heard of that saying, “you never really know what you have until it’s gone”? Why do we do that to ourselves? Why is it so easy to brush things off and not appreciate them until we no longer have them. Lately I have been living my life unappreciative of what I have. I work at a sports bar and my schedule is usually 3 days a week and every Saturday night. The past couple of weeks I’ve caught myself just thinking to myself, “if I can only get past Saturday night so I can go to Mass on Sunday morning and then nap all day”. Before this weekend at Spirit Alive I was completely fine with that mindset. I thought it was great that I had something to look forward to at the end of the week, but this weekend made me realize that every day is in itself its own blessing. If I wake up ready to get the day over with, am I really living? I encourage you to really analyze the way you’re living life and to not go through the days “just surviving”.

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Weakness

This summer I spent six golden weeks in middle-of-nowhere Dahlonega, GA at LifeTeen’s summer camp Hidden Lake, and it wrecked my life. As has every mass since. At camp we woke up exhausted and went to bed exhausted, and we did everything as a community (including peeing our pants (if you didn’t pee your pants at every dance party was it really a dance party?) ) That part was exhausting too. Community is hard, people. But it’s more than hard, and that’s what I learned this summer. That “hard” is just a tiny part of life with Christ. In fact it becomes so minuscule that it becomes sweet, because the amount of love and grace and fruit that comes from “hard” makes you ardently desire sacrifice and desire to give in those particular ways, small and big, in order to be made soft.
At this camp I was given the opportunity every weekday morning to wake up early for either a holy half hour or a holy whole hour. I didn’t always choose the whole, because sleep was scarce, but when I did it was fruitful. And when I didn’t it was also fruitful, because Jesus was there both ways. (🔥) Then the community would pray morning prayer and each day the schedule was different after that. When there were campers, we went straight to breakfast to see our people and hang out with them the rest of the day until the missionaries met again as a community late that night. Y’all. Waking up was so hard, but I honestly wouldn’t have wanted to serve any other way. And what made it sweeter was on the way to the chapel teens were showing up to confession. They were waking up the same time as us, walking down the road to face their weakness on a grassy knoll in the middle of nowhere Georgia with a priest they’d never met. That’s Jesus winning y’all. I saw Jesus in these teens every day. And I saw Jesus doing so much work in every single person who stepped foot on camp property, from the mailman to the food delivery truck drivers to the bus drivers to the chaperones to the teens to the summer missionaries. He just wants to move and love. And it’s so obvious, and literally all that people did was pray and ask. That’s it. (#Jesusincreaseourdesire)

Like seriously. I am the worst summer missionary. I am so bad at so many things, and I failed so many times in so many ways. And I am so weak. But in all that, this summer I was able to see how much I needed a Savior, and that knowledge allowed my heart to let Jesus be who He is. Just by asking. He is no longer just a friend, to me, He is a Savior, a compassionate Father… This was so slowly revealed to me this summer, but it all peaked when I was kneeling on a mountain at mass at the end of camp, looking at myself in hatred and disgust and just being really mean to myself. Amidst all of that, Jesus spoke to me and He said this: “Emma. Your weaknesses do not discount you from my love.” Jot that down. Because he did not say to me that I am perfect and wonderful and amazing, He said he loved me. He did not lie to me or deceive me, but He said He loved me. Y’all… We just always think we need to be more. We need to be better at praying, more disciplined, more. But really, we just need more Jesus. Which means we need to be weaker.

Jesus Christ died and walked with us and suffered with us, and that’s a freaking big deal. But that is not the end of the story! The end of the story is that HE ROSE. And that is the part of history that we get to live into, that Jesus conquered death and sin. And the glory of that is that NOTHING can separate us from His love, He has shown us that. He is still here and He promised to send His spirit to dwell with us, that means He walks with us and that’s flipping cool. You know that gospel where the disciples are fishing, and they aren’t catching anything, but then Jesus says, hey throw the net in the exact same spot, and they do and they catch TONS of fish? (John 21) The disciples were doing an ordinary task, and it was only successful and fruitful and fulfilling when they did what Jesus told them to do. That was the difference. They did it with Jesus. He is here, and He is alive. And we are chosen and we are loved. And I am so grateful for the simple genius of LifeTeen missions and the yeses of each person who served with me, from summer staff, to those who cooked for us (and loved us so well!!), to those full time missionaries who led us so well. Thank you for trusting me, and loving Jesus, and being the best at building a good community.
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Trusting in God Alone

photo by Casey Johnson

Jesus I trust in You.

Hello everyone! For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been at Life Teen’s Camp Covecrest as a summer missionary for the last 3 weeks. Camp Covecrest is a camp in Tiger, GA where Catholic teens from all over the US come for a week-long encounter with Christ. Please pray for me, the other missionaries, the staff, my parish from last week (St. Rose of Lima) and my parish this week (St.Dominic)! The first 2 weeks at camp help us prepare for the campers to arrive. Week one was “Work Week”, where we prepared the outside and inside of camp. The second week was “Formation Week”, which helped us prepare our hearts and minds for campers to arrive. The third week, “Week 1”, is when  our parishes arrived. We spent the whole week with them doing amazing things and glorifying God the entire time. These first 3 weeks have been so fruitful, but by far, the thing I’ve grown the most in is trust.

Here at camp, the Eucharist and prayer is our way of staying in close companionship with Christ. We have a daily holy hour and attend mass together every day as a community. We also begin and end every day with the Liturgy of the Hours. This daily routine of prayer is the heartbeat of our community and the strength I receive from daily communion is hard to express with words. Every day I have to trust in the Lord to give me strength. I have to trust that He is working in the teens and in me.

During work week we had abundant opportunities for spiritual direction with Fr. John Ignatius, one of the founders of the Servants of Christ Jesus. During one of our discussions on trust, he talked about a poverty pilgrimage that he went on a few years back. A poverty pilgrimage is a journey from one place to another with the bare minimum. Fr. John’s was along the California Mission trail. He took a backpack with a change of clothes and his bible inside – nothing else. No money, no hotel reservations, no food – nothing. He said that every day they had to trust in the Lord to get them from one place to another. His entire trip, he said that he never spent a night outside, he never starved, and most importantly, he never stopped trusting the Lord. Hearing this story stressed me out. No prior planning? No money? No food? His example of radical trust in the Lord showed me that if he can survive weeks of travel on only trust, I can at least start to trust God more in the smaller things in my life.

My bunk mate, Devin, always has a prayer that I love. He says, “Lord, if You want me to work on something make it abundantly clear.” God made it abundantly clear that I needed to work on trust. The best example of that is one night in Eucharistic Adoration:

We were called to place something at the foot of the altar and give it up to God. I placed my object and looked up at Christ in the monstrance and, for a split second, questioned it. I returned to my seat, which I noticed had a sheet of paper laying on it that I hadn’t seen before. I opened it and, lo and behold, it was the Litany of Trust. Talk about being abundantly clear! Since then I’ve been working on giving Jesus more and more, and trusting Him with more things in my life.

I encourage everyone who took the time to read this to pray a Litany of Trust for themselves or a loved one, and if you feel called, make it a weekly, or daily, devotion.

Litany of Trust

From the belief that I have to earn Your love … Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear that I am unlovable … Deliver me, Jesus.
From the false security that I have what it takes … Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear that trusting You will leave me more destitute … Deliver me, Jesus.
From all suspicion of Your words and promises … Deliver me, Jesus.
From the rebellion against childlike dependency on You … Deliver me, Jesus.
From refusals and reluctances in accepting Your will … Deliver me, Jesus.
From anxiety about the future … Deliver me, Jesus.
From resentment or excessive preoccupation with the past … Deliver me, Jesus.
From restless self-seeking in the present moment … Deliver me, Jesus.
From disbelief in Your love and presence … Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being asked to give more than I have … Deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that my life has no meaning or worth … Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of what love demands … Deliver me, Jesus.
From discouragement … Deliver me, Jesus.

That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me … Jesus, I trust in You.
That Your love goes deeper than my sins and failings, and transforms me … Jesus, I trust in You.
That not knowing what tomorrow brings is an invitation to lean on You … Jesus, I trust in You.
That You are with me in my suffering … Jesus, I trust in You.
That my suffering, united to Your own, will bear fruit in this life and the next … Jesus, I trust in You.
That You will not leave me orphan, that You are present in Your Church … Jesus, I trust in You.
That Your plan is better than anything else … Jesus, I trust in You.
That You always hear me, and in Your goodness always respond to me … Jesus, I trust in You.
That You give me the grace to accept forgiveness and to forgive others … Jesus, I trust in You.
That You give me all the strength I need for what is asked … Jesus, I trust in You.
That my life is a gift … Jesus, I trust in You.
That You will teach me to trust You … Jesus, I trust in You.
That You are my Lord and my God … Jesus, I trust in You.
That I am Your beloved one … Jesus, I trust in You.

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A Parent’s Joy

As most of you are aware, I recently arrived at the Mundelein Seminary in Illinois for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. While the transition has been, at times, the best thing I have ever done – at others, it’s been a time of extreme struggle and strife – as the storm rages in the heart of anyone following the will of God. The question then gets posed, what gets you through times of doubts, or struggles, or challenges when what God is calling you to comes into conflict with your own heart? The simple answer to that question is the overwhelming amount of grace, love, joy, and support provided, not only by God, but by those around you. I plan to speak on one of these simple, yet beautiful graces and joys that the Lord has shown to me.

Over this past summer, I was given the opportunity to serve at Covecrest and Hidden Lake with Life Teen as a seminarian at their summer camps. All I knew going into it was that I would be serving at Masses and basically just being present to the teens at these camps. During this time of discernment, I was constantly bombarded with questions from family, friends, and even those who did not really know me. The one that kept coming up was the concern about a priest not being able to get married or have children. Every time the question was posed, my answer would always be directed back to the idea of spiritual fatherhood. For most, this seems like a lofty idea, or something that was made up to make priests feel good about their decision. For those of us who live out, or are living out, that notion of spiritual fatherhood, I can tell you that it is not some lofty ideal, but in fact something extremely concrete. While I was serving this summer at camp, I was attached to two different youth groups: a high school group for one week and a middle school group for the other week. Both of these groups, in their own way, made a much bigger impact on my life than I think I could have ever made on theirs.

Tonight I received a package from that high school youth group containing two retreat shirts and a handwritten letter. The letter was a thank you letter written by that community that I was blessed to be a part of, and the shirts were a way of them telling me I belonged to their parish family. You see, before the summer, I had never met anyone in either of these youth groups. For that youth group to go out of their way to find my address at the seminary, write the letter, and continue to think of me after that week is beyond anything I could imagine. You see, priests may not have children of their own, but everyone they meet is a son or a daughter. It is difficult for our society to understand because we have lost what it means to have self-sacrificial love. The same way a father or mother loves their children, is the way a priest is called to love everyone. There have been so many moments where I’ve felt like a proud father, even from where I am, just now starting out at the seminary. To be walking this journey with people I have known for a lifetime, for a few years, or even just a week or day at a time still brings me the true joy that any parent would have for any of their children. To all of you who have been with me so far on this journey towards following God’s call, thank you and know that I am praying for you. For those two youth groups in particular: know that since our time at camp, I have not stopped praying for each and every one of you. Know that wherever God calls you, that getting yourself out of the way will lead to the most adventurous life one could ask for. It will be challenging, it will be difficult, but know that there is no joy on earth that could ever rival that of God’s grace and He promises to walk that journey with you. Thank you for letting me get to spend a short time with you and for including me in your parish family. Be assured of my continued prayers!

God Bless,
Evan