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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

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Control – Chisel

A few months back, my co-teacher and I were planning our weekly PSR (or CCD) class, and the topic was on God’s plan for your life. He shared a video with me and wanted my thoughts on sharing it with the class. The first time I watched it I was only half paying attention but the video had some funny parts and I thought it would make a great addition to our class lesson. It was not until I watched it for a second time that I gave it the attention it deserved and listened to the message it was trying to convey. There is a specific part in the video where the phrase, “Control – Chisel” is said and the context hit me like a ton of bricks. You see, the entire premise of this video was to show us that in order for us to be more Christ-like in our life we must be willing to be “chiseled”, or formed, if you will. It is through this process of formation that we start to remove false motivations, clever masks, and ultimately, where we can break open the doors to our hearts in order for Christ to shine through – letting us become who we are created to be. There have been many times that I have used this phrase when joking with friends whenever they were trying to be in control of a situation; and they have used it on me in the same manner. It was not until recently that I really started to understand the true nature of this tiny little statement in my life. In the last few months I have really been made aware of situations, choices, and struggles that have felt like a chisel, removing pieces in order to temper my soul to reflect more of Christ and less of me. For me, I always find myself asking God to show me areas of my life that need to be worked on, but whenever it comes time to work on them, I always find myself talking and justifying my way out of that uncomfortable nature of formation. If you find yourself relating to that, congratulations you belong to the human race. The process of dying to self and allowing God control over your life so that we may become who we were created to be is a scary proposition. From a worldly perspective, this path of following Christ and allowing Him to form us is an arduous journey best left alone, as the process is too painful and leaves us feeling vulnerable. But my brothers and sisters, we know and believe in more than just a simple worldly perspective. Christ wants us to become who we are created to be to the fullest extent. In order for us to achieve this process the chiseling of different areas of our lives must take place. It is not until we truly learn this idea of self-sacrificial love that we will begin to understand the true beauty of the Resurrection and the Passion of our Lord. I encourage all of you to ask the Lord to show you areas in your life that need to be chiseled and formed to His will. I warn you though, He will show you if you ask. Give him the opportunity and let go of your control so that He can show you the greatness you were made for!

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In Savannah ♫

On Sunday March 13th, the UNG’s Catholic Campus Ministry took the Mobile Missions’ bus on a trip to Savannah, Georgia for a Spring Break Mission Trip. For those of you who don’t already know, the bus has been completely overhauled and renovated by our campus minister and her husband, Jaime & David Roberts (who run the Mobile Mission Ministry). There are benches that line the interior walls, making it convenient to talk, have fun, and even sleep during a road trip.  We made it down to Savannah in about six hours after two stops: one for gas and one for food – but really they were both bathroom breaks. We arrived at the Villa Maria Center, a Catholic retreat center run by the Diocese of Savannah and maintained by Sister Pat. The center was beautiful and had a dining hall, large commercial kitchen, a pool house with showers, a chapel, fire pit, dock, and fields to play soccer, badminton, and volleyball on. The sun had set on the first day of our trip to Savannah, and we all prepared our sleeping spots, either in the dining hall or on the bus. All of the girls claimed the bus, and as we got into our sleeping bags and hunkered down for the night, we talked about our dreams and aspirations.

On the next day, we awoke at 7:15am. Rising and shining was not easy, 12593914_10102121225025073_2733725866981445118_obut we got dressed and headed down to the chapel to do MorningPrayer together. We then got back on the bus to drive to St. James Catholic Church for their 8:30am Mass. When we walked in, I’m confident that we lowered the age average by at least a few years. The Mass was short and the parishioners were welcoming and friendly. We got back on the bus and headed back to Villa Maria to change into play clothes for the day and to enjoy a hearty breakfast together, cooked by the one and only, David Hunter.

12027376_10102121187071133_8476906216317656042_oWe then got back on the bus to head to downtown Savannah to explore the city we were there to serve. We walked through Forsyth Park and up and down the beautiful streets of the city. We explored some of the grassy squares, saw the spot where Forrest Gump was filmed sitting on a park bench in Chippewa Square. We used the restroom inside the SCAD welcome center, took pictures outside the front of the cathedral, and we took a stroll down River Street. We ate lunch at Tubby’s, a restaurant that overlooks the river, and then walked back to the bus to go to Blessingdale’s, the thrift store where we would do our mission work. This store funds The Living Vine, a Christian Maternity Home that houses pregnant women that have nowhere else to go. They also host a yard sale every month and split the proceeds with local youth groups who volunteer and help the yard sale.

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When we arrived to Blessingdale’s, we got the grand tour of the chaos we were being thrown into. The thrift store had a few other college groups who were volunteering there for the week also. We jumped right in with them. 12841411_10102121228857393_6968189626917290546_oSome of our group was in the processing center, where the donations are dropped off to be sorted later. There were countless shoes to be sorted into pairs by gender, sizes, and how they should be sold (either in the thrift store or into a yard sale pile.). The other part of the group was brought to an annex storage facility with cold water and ice for the group that had been there all day. 12308166_10102121231871353_236504269034707087_oThere was no air conditioning and the volunteers who were there 10549213_10102121231117863_5375589133194822441_olooked like the ice and water we brought was an answer to their prayers – looking back on it now, it probably was. Those of us on that trip finally made it back to the processing center to help sort, not only shoes, but also housewares, small appliances, décor pieces, and clothing. The men of the group used their muscles to move the heavy furniture and trash items. We closed down the shop at 6pm and made it back to Villa Maria, our temporary home. We played games together and had a delicious dinner together. We took turns taking showers in the pool house and counted down the hours until we could sleep.

Tuesday started just the same, Morning Prayer in the chapel, then off to St. James for 8:30am Mass. This time Mass was celebrated by a different priest than the day before. We talked with a few parishioners afterwards who were interested in what we were doing and how we were helping their community. One lady even donated $50 to us for our efforts (which we donated to The Living Vine Maternity Home). After Mass, we went back to Villa Marie to change and eat another breakfast, and we also made and packed our lunches for the day. We then walked out the door and onto the bus, as we left for Blessingdale’s.

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O12377827_10102121232320453_7683220904718349108_our group broke off again and many of us went back to sorting shoes, and the other half went to the back room of the store. You see, the store has always been at this location, but they had just recently secured the warehouse building next door to use as their processing center. There was almost no good working system for them because as soon as they could put stuff onto the shelves to sell items, 100’s of new donations were being dropped off. We were really able to leave them in much better shape than we had found it when we arrived. Those of us in the back room group put some stuff out on the floor to sell and then the real work started. We wiped down the pollen-covered shelves, and moved them so they were all together. We moved, boxed, and organized tools that the store uses. Lunch came and we could finally sit down and eat on the bus while talking about all the work we were doing. We were on an amazing journey of self-discovery because while we cleaned and organized we were also helping people who could not help themselves. We quickly got back to work and continued the tasks we were given. After 6:00pm, we got back on the bus, exhausted and happy. We made it home to shower and play games. We set up some tents and hammocks this night too. We had built an amazing community among ourselves – we laughed about inside jokes and were making new ones. We built a fire and cooked hotdogs for dinner, then prayed the rosary together to close out the day.

Wednesday started with Morning Prayer and Mass again before breakfast and heading back to the thrift store. All of the workers who were there were so grateful, but to me, it really did not seem like that big of a deal. I just saw this as sharing the time and talents we had been given with people whom we might not ever get to meet. I saw it as an opportunity for growth. We finished the backroom and the shoes, and we were given different tasks, like taking down tables, fixing the clothes racks and putting more clothes out. We worked the tedious jobs that I’m sure the ladies at the store were glad they had people to help do. We wiped furniture and trinkets, and put tags on pins and earrings. At the end of the day, we took a moment to shop and buy some things from the store as well. We invested some of our money into the shop we had spent so much time improving. We also got to share the Mobile Mission bus with the ladies at the shop to show them how cool it is. We prayed with them before leaving, maybe to never return or see the fruit of our labors, but we know we helped them and that’s all we could ask.

After leaving Blessingdale’s for the last time, we went to Leopald’s, a famous ice cream parlor downtown. We had prayed that we would get a good space in line because on Monday we saw that the line was wrapped outside the building. Our prayers were answered – there was no line at all when we arrived! The ice cream was just as good as the company we shared it with. We made it back to Villa Maria to shower, play games, and grow closer to one another in our conversations. We built another fire and had dinner around it again, before closing the night out with another rosary. Because it was our last night together, we tried to keep our eyes open as long as possible and spend more quality time together into the wee hours of the night.

10575264_10102121204476253_4915432978764126931_oOn Thursday morning, we had to wake up much earlier in order to say Morning Prayer and make it to a different church for an 8:00am Mass at the Cathedral downtown. The parking was atrocious because of it being the St. Patrick’s Day parade. We finally found a spot and hiked over 20 blocks to Mass. The Cathedral was packed to the brim with a sea of green Catholics in preparation for the big parade. The Mass was said by the Bishop of Savannah, and there were close to ten other priests on the altar to help celebrate Mass. The homily was said by an Irish priest, and his words made me want to go to Ireland and see the beauty and the seminary there. There were photographers taking pictures throughout the Mass, which in all honesty, made me feel a little awkward, but we got through it. After Mass we trekked back to the bus and headed to Tybee Island. On the way to Tybee, we noticed how many of our other friends were in Savannah for the parade, but I was thankful for not being in the chaos.

We made it to Tybee and hung out on the beach. The weather was nice, but the water was cold. We played frisbee and talked about the future, and tried not to think about the fact that our time together like this was almost over. We got back on the bus and went to Villa Maria. We packed and loaded up all of our things. We swept and cleaned the areas we used, and then we loaded on the bus and headed home.

12484849_10102121232874343_8274138329976764201_o12794867_10102121232954183_1559684659614895432_o12593921_10102121168747853_2839063439468622476_oThe bus trip was filled with music from a guitar, a djembe drum, and an authentic tin whistle. Laughter filled the air, as did the heavy breathing of sleeping people.  We made it back to Dahlonega and grabbed food before sharing our goodbyes and going our separate ways. We started great friendships on this trip and we were able to share our talents with those who needed it. While we may not see the fruits of our labor during our time serving in Savannah, we still served God and shared him with everyone we met.

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Made For Greatness

What kind of person do you want to be? Some might say successful, others, happy, and yet others might say fulfilled. These are all beautiful answers and all have their individual values but none of them paint the whole picture. We have all been created with dignity and an intrinsic value that God wants more for you then just happiness or success. God has created you for greatness! So what is greatness? Is it being the CEO of some Fortune 500 company? Possibly. What about becoming an international speaker? Maybe. What about just being a father working a regular job? The beautiful thing about greatness is that it can be anything so long as we are following the will of God in our lives. We all have different gifts, talents and callings in life and yet everything we do is in service of our neighbor and the living Church, known as the Mystical Body of Christ. If you are anything like me, we can sometimes find ourselves bargaining with God. We say things like, “if You would do this for me then I will be able to do this for You.” I have noticed in the past year how often this has been my response to situations in my life in both good times and bad, but through self introspection I’ve come to see how selfish a desire that is. You see, God never leaves us on our own but He gives us countless opportunities to show just how much we love Him and how much faith we have in His ways versus our own. Our view from our own eyes can become cloudy and fogged as we travel over the, often times, windy path to follow in the footsteps of Christ. This fog can be from our own lack of faith, our own selfish desires, or it can be placed by the evil one – satan. I feel satan is often behind these selfish prayers of ours when we bargain with God. There is hope for us “bargainers” though. You see, once we become aware of what we are doing we can convert our prayers to allow God to transform our hearts and to help us transform that fog into a beautiful light. We must examine our motives behind the desires we pray for and if they contain selfish thoughts we must ask for those motives to be purified. While, what we may pray for in their own right might be something true, good, and beautiful, if our intentions are selfish in nature then we can poison those desires – and this is exactly what satan wants of us. Next time you find yourself bargaining in prayer, even for something good, ask God to purify your intentions and to show you the true meaning of what you are asking. Regardless of the response that He gives you, it is all because He loves you and has made you for greatness. He calls you to the journey, but it is your decision to take the first step.