relationships

Gaze: The Importance of Orienting Ourselves Toward Jesus

            I’ve heard it said, “Eyes are a window to the soul.” Nobody really knows who said it.  Some believe Shakespeare said it, but others claim biblical origins.  Regardless of the quote’s origin, most of us can attest to its meaning.  When we look at someone, especially for prolonged periods of time, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  In fact, a 1989 study was published in The Journal of Research in Personality called, “Looking and Loving:  The Effects of Mutual Gaze on Feelings of Romantic Love” found that “subjects induced to exchange mutual unbroken gaze for 2 minutes with a stranger of the opposite sex reported increased feelings of passionate love for each other.”  What does this mean for us?  It means that who we look at sparks passions, and love.  This might mean, that though sometimes the developments of feelings may have something to do with “love at first sight” more often than not it has to do with time spent in the presence of another person. 

            The gazes lovers share are not always passionate.  And those passionate moments are not the only times that love grows.  Sometimes, love grows in just an absent-minded stare over a bowl of cereal on Saturday morning or a glance upward while brushing your teeth.  Sometimes it’s just a subconscious awareness that another person is in the room with you while you check your e-mail, watch the news, or cook dinner.  In times like these, you may not even need words.  You just might glance over at that person, know that he or she is there, and relax into that presence.  If that person falls asleep, you might walk more quietly so as not to wake him/her.  The bottom line is that over time, we subconsciously change the direction of our lives, when we are in the presence of others, especially if that person is someone we love.  Try as we might, the more we look at someone, the harder it is to walk in a different direction than he/she does.

            The truth is that if we really love someone, and allow ourselves to be truly present to him/her regularly, it is difficult to really stray from that loving relationship.  It is one of the reasons why long distance relationships can be so difficult.  We crave that contact.  We crave just knowing that another person is in the room with us.

            What does this mean for my relationship with the Lord?  It means that looking at the Lord is vital to having any kind of a relationship with Him.  As Catholics, we can gaze upon the face of the Lord anytime we want in the Holy Eucharist.  If we just show up, for even a brief moment, we can gaze at the Lord, while He looks back at us (the way lovers do), to invoke passion. There may be times during this stare when we leave totally on fire with love for God.  Those days are like the clarity of a first kiss that causes your stomach to fill with butterflies.  It’s really easy to want to be in the presence of God when this happens.  It may happen for you.  It may not.  More often than not though, gazing at the Lord may feel more like doing required laundry with someone you love than dancing with your husband for the first time on your wedding day.  Luckily, the Lord does not need butterflies and lightening bolts to change your life and your heart, even though he may use them sometimes. Choosing to be in the Lord’s presence regularly makes it difficult to stray too far from His loving embrace even if you don’t feel or can’t understand it.  Just like it’s impossible to walk in a straight line for very long with your head turned to the right, it’s hard to walk away from the Lord if you regularly look at Him.  You might take some detours, but you can’t get too far off track if you just look at Him.  The gaze is powerful.  His gaze can change every sinner to a saint, sometimes actively, sometimes passively.  Somebody, somewhere once said that the “eyes are the windows to the soul.” What would happen, if you just looked at the Lord?

Love: The True Purpose of Community

Four years and two months ago I moved to Kansas City  from St. Paul, MN. In St. Paul I had the best friends I could have ever imagined. It was really hard to move away knowing that I wasn’t going to be easily and instantly surrounded by “my people” - people that knew me and really got me. And, worst of all, if you’re like me and have a propensity to tell really lame jokes, a new environment comes with many uncertainties. In St. Paul I had relationships that mattered to me: relationships where I could simultaneously just be myself and work on the more selfish and stubborn parts of myself. When I got to Kansas City, I didn’t know exactly what to expect and I spent the first few months just going to work and not really getting to know anyone else. After that, my life changed again when I started meeting in a small group with some guys and started getting really close to some of them. Now, once again, there were people who knew me, accepted me, but also challenged me to improve and wanted me to be the person I was created to be.

I bonded with these guys and eventually some really great girl friends and I started to experience the kind of community I left in St. Paul. Both the St. Paul community and the community in KC changed me and I encountered people - when I was vulnerable enough to have real conversations - that gave me new experiences and insight that I had never had before. Now in KC a lot of the friends I made at first have gotten married or our lives have taken us in different directions. But they still impacted and changed me nonetheless because I was vulnerable and accountable to real friends that truly knew and cared for my growth as a person and disciple of Christ. Over the past year, I’ve been getting to know a new set of friends that have become a new community for me. Every year continues to be the best year of my life because every year I know people that know me, accept me and my lame jokes, and want me to be better than I am currently. All of this is because over and over God blesses us with the people we need to have authentic community by giving us relationships that truly matter.

With relationships that truly matter comes a series of experiences we thought we could never have. We enjoy a new type of happiness that is ultimately satisfying a natural inclination found deep in the way we are wired. I’m not talking about the short-term pleasure-kind of happiness, but a deep and lasting sense of “this is who I am and where I belong.” In these kinds of relationships there is a peace that says “all is right with the world when I’m with these people.” Now, it is absolutely certain that - in this life - no one will ever experience that type of contentment all of the time. But, if we don’t have it some of the time, we may need to reevaluate the depth and significance of our relationships.

Without a deeper type of community, we are left to conversations with people that are simply a kind of fleeting pleasure in themselves. If you’re like me, it’s fun to enjoy a conversation that doesn’t really matter - that doesn’t actually influence my life or their life in any significant way. There are conversations to be had that are pleasant, but not important. Pleasant conversations are fine most of the time, and I am certainly not advocating for every conversation to be super deep. But if we only have pleasant conversations, soon enough we will realize that the true purpose of community is not being realized in our lives.

Like the two greatest commandments, there are two places this deep and satisfying community is found: God and others. Jesus says, “Come to me you who are burdened and I will give you rest.” What gives us rest? Going to Jesus and having communion with him. If we go to Jesus with our burdens, he wants to be our community. He wants to be the place we go to say that all is right with the world. At some of the hardest times in my life, I found this to be especially true about adoration. We were made for God’s love. Without Jesus as our first and most important relationship, we will always strive and struggle to find some finite thing to fill the void in us that longs for an infinite kind of community. In terms of others, we find that the deepest kind of community participates in and reflects our relationship with God. We get to know people that we share our lives with. People that, practically speaking, know everything about us because we become vulnerable with and accountable to them. People whose presence we enjoy and people who truly want what is best for us.

So what is the true goal of authentic community? In the course of our lives, community is important for many reasons. It’s a place where we find understanding, belonging, joy, kindness, compassion but also honesty, candor, and challenges from people that come from genuine concern for our well-being. But ultimately, the most important reason for community is love. It is a place we receive love, where we give love, and the primary school of formation for a life of love lived for God and others. In the context of our relationships, love - the true purpose of community - has a chance to be cultivated.

Because love is choosing the good of others even at the risk of our own detriment, we cannot grow in love without others. And ultimately this is important for our salvation because true holiness and sainthood is found in the perfection of love, first for God then for others. So how does community teach us love? It’s easy to see in the day to day course of life that our friendships give a chance to enjoy others’ sense of humor, abilities, talents, different ways of thinking, different unique purposes, etc. But what they should really give us is that place of belonging. But not simply in helping us be comfortable though. (Insert dramatic music in your mind here.The universe needs each and everyone of us to become who we were created to be. You are the only you in the world. You are the only you that has ever existed and will ever exist. There’s is something you bring to the universe that no one else ever has, ever will, or ever can. We do this by learning how to love with every fiber of our being. When we know ourselves: our gifts, strengths, our deepest desires we begin to learn our personal mission in the world, but no matter who you are the goal is to be truly you while learning to love to the best of your ability.

Since we all have shortcomings and failures and we all need to strive to improve, community is so important because it is our school of formation for the most important adventure of our lives. What adventure am I talking about? The key adventure of life: Learning to love. We all struggle to love God as well as we should and we all struggle to love others as well as we should. In community we have role models of love, we are challenged and encouraged to love better, but also we have relationships with the very people we are called to love.

In the end, there’s a difference between knowing that the point of community is love and actually choosing to live it. For me, the gap is often wider than I recognize. And I have a lot of work to do. Nonetheless, nothing less than heaven is our goal and, when we have true love in our hearts, we will want to bring as many people with us as we can. With love, we strive to become what God has created us to be, first for him and then for others. We often struggle seeing ourselves without biased, but you can bet your friends - the ones that truly know you - know some of your shortcomings even better than you. In my life, from St. Paul to Kansas City, I’ve had friends who see parts of me clearer than I do. The ones that truly love me challenge me to become better, and one day maybe even a saint. Looking around me, however, I see people all over who are deprived of true community that teaches men and women how to truly love. When you find yourself in this situation, take aim to find friends with which you can be vulnerable and accountable, friends that truly challenge you to better yourself become who you were created to be: a man or woman who loves well in every circumstance.

3 Reasons to Write a Letter. On Paper.

When I interviewed for my current job, I was given a book. The Journey of our Love is a collection of letters, notes, and postcards exchanged between St. Gianna Beretta Molla and her husband Pietro.

The letters are not only a beautiful record of their lives together (in everything from heartfelt romantic sentiments to a list of items to bring from home when Pietro joins his family on vacation), but is also a testament to the joy and adventure of a pen and paper correspondence. Whether to a family member, a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a husband or wife, there is something particularly sweet about words you have waited days, or even weeks, to read. There is something special about a piece of paper someone took the time to fill in order to share a piece of their life with you.

Even after the telephone became a part of daily life, Pietro and St. Gianna continued to write to each other whenever they were apart. Their letters were treasured not only by them, but also by their children after they were gone, as a testament to the love of their parents. And now, as a book, they offer the world an inside look at a love that was always moving towards God.

There is nothing wrong with modern means of communication (I love being able to chat with friends and family, or just let a friend know I am praying for her with a quick text), but nevertheless, here are three reasons that you should write a letter anyways.

 

1)   It is both authentic solitude and authentic communion  

 

When you sit down to write a letter, you aren’t with the person you are communicating with. The fact that they can’t respond, they don’t even know what you’ve said, until the words are (literally) far from your pen, makes the experience one where you can really spend time in your own head and heart, getting to know yourself. At the same time, writing a letter is, by it’s nature, communal. It brings two people, who are (usually) geographically distant together, and reminds us that even when we are alone, our loved ones are always with us.

 

 

2)   It reminds us to slow down.

 

It takes time to write a letter. Between the time to sort through your thoughts and understand what you want to say and the time it takes to actually put those words down on paper, even a short letter deserves a few moments of peace and quiet. When we take the time, however, that spirit is not only manifested in our own hearts, but becomes a part of what you send to your loved ones.

 

3)   Handwriting is awesome.

We are made to be creative. And our hearts are naturally moved by beauty. Of course there is the chance to arrange words beautifully in many mediums, digital or otherwise. But there is a chance in a letter to communicate not only in what you write, but how you write it. Even chicken scratches that require a deciphering tool can say something endearing about the author (even if it is simultaneously frustrating...). Whether you are a master calligrapher or you just slow down long enough to make the letter legible, whether you prefer glittery purple or classic black ink, plain white copy paper or vintage stationary… there is so much more to a letter than the words you write. It is a chance to express so much more of yourself than a text or email, and that alone is beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Feature: CBC Phoenix

Catholic Beer Club. No agendas, Just Community and Relationship. We are built on this principle that while talks and bible studies are good and necessary things, sometimes young Catholics need a chance to hang out with other young Catholics, to encounter new people in an unscripted atmosphere. We need opportunities to meet people outside of our normal circles, to talk to someone about their interests that have nothing to do with our own, or even just to enjoy the company of friends we don’t see often. We need opportunities to build community in all its forms, from new bible study members to running partners.

Relationships are transformative by nature. Even the most surface level of our relationships have the power to affect who we become. The communities we build transform not only us, but the world.

In Phoenix, CBC co-coordinators Christian Andreen and Nathan Roush have created a space for relationships of all forms to begin—and people have responded. Because Phoenix is a place where people often move after college or for a fresh start, there is already a sense of openness about the city. Christian believes this also contributes to the success of CBC, because people come to the events with open hearts and minds. They are there to meet someone new.

The fact that the events are no pressure, and if you hate it you can leave, helps people to take the risk of showing up.
— Christian Andreen

The number of people who continue showing up, and even joining the group for country dancing afterwards, suggests that not too many have hated it. Christian and Nate make an effort to have different types of events—some with food, some with yard games, some at an ordinary old bar—making each month different, and enabling different personalities to shine. The heart of every event is still socializing, and Christian loves that when everyone is just hanging out and getting to know each other time just goes by, and people don’t even know it.

The events, however, are only the beginning. Christian and Nate both love that new people join them for country dancing after many events, even some who don’t love country dancing. They have gone hiking with groups of people they met at Catholic Beer Club, and even hosted screenings of Bishop Robert Baron’s Catholicism series. Christian has also had people ask to grab coffee when they just needed someone to talk to.

It was amazing that she felt like she could trust me. I think that since there is no ticket to get in the door, she knew I wasn’t going to be judgmental. We still keep in touch.
— Christian Andreen

Nate loves that the events have a very “disarming atmosphere.” You are invited to come and be as social as you like, to get into a debate, or choose not to, to play games, or to just chat with someone new. When people feel free to be themselves, the results are amazing.

As coordinators, CBC has challenged Christian and Nate in unique ways. “Being city coordinator has helped me to grow more bold,” said Nate. When he sees someone new, he want to make sure they feel welcome and try to help them meet someone they connect with, which has pushed him to start initiating conversations with strangers. Becoming more of an initiator has also been a challenge for Christian, calling her out of her comfort zone. But doing so, she says, “has taught me to trust, because people say yes! If you don’t ask, they don’t say yes.” After dragging her roommate to the first event, Christian was pleasantly surprised to find that people came. She said, “They were nice, and normal. And then they came again!”

Sometimes you just want to be around people who are with you on the big issues in life. Sometimes we get into debates, sometimes we don’t. It’s just good to be together.
— Nate Roush

Community and Relationships. There are many ways to go about forming them, and many different elements of each to foster. The simplicity of Catholic Beer Club has allowed multiple types of relationships to begin. The results, however, still defy the odds. The city coordinators create a space, and budding communities across the country grow and flourish out of them. “The whole thing is really a miracle,” Christian said, but it makes perfect sense when we have a God who loves loving us through each other. “I think God really wants Catholic Beer Club to be welcoming,” she said, as we learn to trust along with her that so long as we are, he will take care of the rest.

Tribalism and Truth

We’ve been busy here at Catholic Beer Club. As we generate new posts through a new growing mentality of writing, we are continually building ourselves upward and outward. A key facet of our mission is to evangelize and encounter the world without agendas. That’s a tough mission, considering the purpose of evangelizing is to bring the Good News to all people. We, though, are committed to ensuring that this Good News comes in the form of a beer and not a soapbox, given to you in a relationship, not a lecture. We believe this in all things that we do, and we are confident about it. And we love to do it. We live in a world of lost souls, and like you, we are a people longing for a place, a home, and a community. We are lost sheep seeking our flock.

We notice as one of the most prevalent aspects of our being lost is something everyone likes to talk about: dating. Yes, dating, the D-word, the one where we all have some opinion or another and we all still don’t have a clue what the right way forward is. Of course, I exaggerate with all; there are certainly some helpful and truthful commentaries out there. But for the most part we struggle to build relationships with our counterparts and to establish and enjoy joint companionships of both love and responsibility.

For the past two months CBC has been banging our heads against the wall trying to figure out what it is that prevents us from understanding something that should be inherent to the human heart. I began with a forcefully blunt criticism on the unproductive overreaction to the secular dating crisis. Our editors liked parts of the draft, but made some significant changes. We went back and forth, not exactly sure we were getting anywhere. We couldn’t figure it out. We kept thinking, “Surely it can’t be this hard?” We chewed on it until we couldn’t chew anymore. We brought our heads together, and sometimes they banged a little too hard, and we just got even more dazed. And that’s how we stumbled upon something very important. Division.

Part of the Good News is unity. We are a united body of people, and despite our cultural, geographic, and historic backgrounds, we are one. Don’t take this as some idealistic desire for peace on earth. What we’re say saying is that we are all rational animals capable of arriving at the same truth. The problem, though, is that our pride awakens a subtle yet strong division. Meaning, someone can say something truthful or founded on the truth; but, because of the many diverse experiences we each have (which we often take as the totality of truth), we divide the truth into a sort of opinionated tribalism. “This is the truth!” Well, sort of. You have a stake in the truth, but that doesn’t mean you have the whole picture.

Dating is a victim of this tribalism. Our human intellect should lead us to a universal truth about dating that we can all utilize. But, our human pride says that when we experience just a sliver of this truth, we claim it as the only and entire truth. This is wrong. The division is perpetuated by tribal leaders who comprise the vast majority of people talking about dating. Call these 90 percent or so of people the theoretical experts. They’re smart, they have background, and they are probably correct in numerous aspects. But they batter back and forth on the validity or invalidity of each other. In the end, when we all present different ideas, we are no closer to understanding what to do. Or worse, we subscribe wholesale to one mentality or another at the risk of excluding something additionally truthful.

But then there are those who refuse to partake in a tribe. They exile themselves and, like nomads, go from place to place, gathering everything they can to understand the whole truth. Call these people your field experts, the 10 percent that not only have a stake in the truth, but have an experiential authority on the broad spectrum of human experience. They’ve seen just about everything, they’ve rooted themselves in the truth of human nature and natural law, and have drawn valid conclusions on the human heart. They do not make comments that simply add onto the truth; they establish declarations about the truth itself, which we can all understand. We have some examples in mind, and we’re excited to share some of them in the future.

We at CBC and many of our readers know that there is some problem in dating today, even if we can’t quite name it. We believe that this problem cannot be remedied by creating more problems or by dividing our solutions into tribes. And we believe that the path forward to resolving our difficulty lies with the truth, and begins with its most basic fundamental facets. These three principles are how we at CBC plan on presenting any further posts on dating. We call it a lens, and not a platform. We don’t have perquisites on dating that must be met; if we did we would be guilty of establishing a hegemonic tribe. We understand that people experience dating in vast and diverse ways. What we are doing here is asking our authors to take those experiences and look at them through our three-part lens. The problems they find and the solutions they offer must begin with truth, which is most universal to all, and elucidated by the field experts, not the tribal leaders.

What we ask from you is to help us find those field experts, those Noble Nomads who have experienced the world and seen humanity at its best and worst. We have some pretty good ideas of where to start, but we’re not monopolists, and want to see who else is out there that we haven’t thought of. Comment below to offer your suggestions. We’re all lost sheep today, just trying to find our way back home.  

4 Steps to Creating Community That Matters

Recently a close friend was helping with a retreat at his parish. He told me about two old friends of thirty years who have been in the same parish and who have even been members of the Knights of Columbus for longer than I’ve been alive. On this retreat, he witnessed these two friends discover things about each other’s past that deeply affect who both of these men have become. Neither one had ever known these things before. Good job, Parish Retreat! But what ever happened to real life?! Deep friendships and relationships are difficult to find and maintain in a world that settles for such quick modes of communication. Like the ones that involve fleeting forms of affirmation via a “like” button or “thumbs up” emoji. I know it is definitely true for me, and I think most people can relate. We have friends, but those deep, authentic friends that really make a difference in our lives and the lives of others are scarce today.

Imagine a world, a community, a Church where people know each other a different plane, maybe even one we have yet to envision. Imagine knowing someone’s important life events, aspirations, and abilities so well that you can begin to predict their choices, successes, and failures. Imagine someone who will open up to you in an instant and lean on your listening, love, and insight because they know you and they know you care deeply. Imagine always having people that you can also lean on in all kinds of ways for every circumstance. Imagine living a life of adventure and significance, a life that matters in this life and even into eternity alongside people you’re this close to. Imagine a Church with communities of deep friendship that reach out to more people and draw them into this deep community of authentic love.

Granted human realities are messier than what has been described above. Still we cannot neglect the fact that our nature, described all the way back in the philosophy of Aristotle, is imprinted and inclined to have this kind of friendship and community. We settle, not just in packs like wolves, but in great big cities, and even small towns, alongside people totally unrelated by blood and depend on each other for our physical needs, emotional cares and concerns, for laughter, entertainment, and love. In the end, even if we don’t create perfect communities and friendships, having 3 to 5 deep, meaningful—though imperfect—friendships will be much more fulfilling, and hopefully adventurous, than having a hundred shallow friendships. The point of this article is not to present anything new, but rather to demonstrate that authentic community is very much possible if we apply ourselves to some basic principles that are really natural to everyone. So, with that, here are four steps to getting the ball rolling on community that matters:

1)     Have conversations that matter 

I made the mistake the other night of coming up to someone and asking them, “Hey, what’s new?” Even before this conversation, I’ve catalogued in my brain that this is not a good question to initiate worthwhile conversations. The problem is that it is too generic and broad of a question. A better, more simplified starter question is the more specific: “How is your day going?” or “How has your week been?” These questions are more important because they are specific and they get people thinking about the present; they open the door to the here and now for you and that person. As they are answering, listen for either what the person is passionate about or for what challenges or struggles they may be encountering recently. Talk about what really matters to that person and be vulnerable. One reason people feel alone today is because there are so few people in the world that actually know who they really are. It’s not that you have to open your heart to everyone you meet, but being willing to share things that can be disagreed with or things you are feeling is necessary to having relationships that matter. That is truly the starting point to creating community: genuine people having genuine conversation. The point of this step isn’t so much how to have these conversations, but it’s more about being open and ready to have conversations that matter with people more often. Granted there will be times when we are not capable of these conversations because we are exhausted or emotionally compromised for whatever reason. In the end the reality still remains that we won’t have community that matters until we begin to have more conversations that matter.

2)     Establish relationships that matter

Having a conversation that matters should lead to more conversations that matter. Multiple significant conversations lead to the beginning of significant relationships. These can be with coworkers, parishioners, friends of friends, anyone we encounter regularly either naturally or intentionally. At some point, to be a friendship or relationship that truly matters intentional encounters will take place between you and the other: grabbing coffee, lunch, dinner, a beer, taking a road trip, getting together for some good opportunities for conversation on purpose. This is the natural next step from having some good conversations. If you make a habit of having conversations about what you’re passionate about, what a life of adventure looks like, and what failures and struggles you’ve encountered along the way, you are on your way to becoming friends.

3)     Do something that matters together

A word people sometimes find “cute” or kind of “fun” is the word adventure. Like, “OoooOOOOooh! We’re going on an adventure!” It is a word I’ve used a number of times in this post already. A lot of times when we hear that word we think of doing something adventurous like hiking through the mountains, skydiving, cliff diving, bungee jumping, swimming with sharks, spelunking, or parkour. But when I use the word adventure I mean the adventure of your life in its entirety. All of the things in the above list are just small possibilities of the macrocosm that is your real adventure. Your life is meant to be amazing. You are the only you to ever exist and who will ever exist in the history of the universe. You were made to be something that matters. You were meant to have authentic friendships that matter to others, and even change their lives. You were made to be a part of a community that matters. “Doing something” that matters doesn’t necessarily mean a certain activity. It could just mean being that real good friend, talking in depth about reality, and perhaps inviting others into those relationships. These kinds of relationships bring authentic joy and that kind of joy is contagious. People will see how you joke and laugh but also how you deeply care and appreciate each other. This step could also mean literally “doing something” that directly makes a difference in people’s lives, both for this world and the next. In the end, true community will be solidified when we choose to live the adventure of our lives alongside others.

4)     Always being open to new people and new relationships

Once we have friendships that really matter to us, sometimes it’s easy to want to cling on to them as firmly as possible. One thing that will always make for an adventure is realizing that your friendships will change. Even if you stay in the same city your whole life, the people around you will change. We should be always open to starting at step 1, having conversations that matter, whenever it is possible. You never know whose life you change or who will change your life. Your life is an adventure. I know we can’t always be open to others, but being open to others as much as possible will increase the experience of our life’s adventure. We live in a world that is so quick in its modes of communication (and trust me I’m the #1 user of my phone for these modes of communication), but sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder that building relationships and community can be simple. We just have to put in the work of having real conversations and being intentional about pursuing friendships instead of just waiting for them to happen to us. We can become the kind of people that make friendships happen. We can offer the gift of friendship to others around us. We can live lives of adventure for others. Simply invest in real conversations, be willing to be vulnerable, and let who you are be a gift to others in the world around you.