Have you ever imagined friends you don’t actually have but wish you had? Sure, your current batch of friends are cool and fine and all–no criticism–but do you really click with them? They may be down for a holiday BBQ or a jaunt to the local movie theater to check out the latest blockbuster, but do they know you’re a Christian? Do you feel free to discuss such things with them? Do they accept you as you are or must you be tight-lipped about certain things, such as your Christian values? For example, can you discuss your pro-life beliefs without censure or condemnation? Perhaps your friends are more like co-workers in that you often have to adopt a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy with them. That is, can you share your whole self with them, including your deepest feelings about your faith in God?
OK, sure. You have friends at your parish or at school. Cool. Good for you, Mr. and Miss Socialite. But would you kick back a cocktail with them? Would you invite them to a picnic (and, no, not a parish-organized picnic)? Would you go camping or hiking with them? What about a long road trip? Would that be “too uncomfortable”? Yeah, so are they friends in name only but basically strangers and mere acquaintances?
OK, no worries and no judgment. We’re all familiar with that situation. Your church friends may be folks you shake hands with and to whom you say the obligatory “Peace be with you,” but they aren’t candidates for heart-to-hearts and face-to-face conversations. It’s fine. They know of you but don’t really know you. We get that. That happens in parishes and churches everywhere. Not everyone at church can be a close friend. And, to be honest, we likely wouldn’t want everyone to be a close friend.
Of course, that doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t be polite, caring, and loving to those in our community. Jesus asks us to love our brothers (which pretty much means ‘everyone’) and to love our neighbors (Ditto, pretty much means ‘everyone’). But who can we really talk with outside the sacrament of reconciliation? Or outside our specific ministries? Who can we gab and grab a drink with?
Those kind of friends are hard to find and harder to come by. But I believe that God directs us to be that kind of friend. Are we truly present for people? Or do we avoid eye contact? Do we genuinely open ourselves up to new relationships and friendships? That is, are we active participants in our community or are we merely communal, witnessing stuff from the sidelines, showing up but letting others take charge?
As an introvert, I know how hard these things can be. But before I get overly sentimental and sappy here (Can we share a hug? Can we buy the world a Coke and teach them to sing?), let me take a moment to introduce you to the friends I don’t actually have but wish I had. And then I’ll tell you at least 10 things I learned from their podcast.
As you may have already guessed, mine is pretty much a man-crush. Straight up, Playa. So there it is. I’ve been man-crushing big time on these guys. But it’s pretty much OK because they’re Catholic diocesan priests and men of God. They’re married to Christ and the Church. That is very good to me! Our only contact is via their podcast, so before you label me a creeper just keep in mind that my respective man-crushes are very geographically distant from me–they’re safely tucked away in Denver and Rome–far, far away from where I’m at. So things are cool and manly. For now, that is. I’m kidding.
For the record, I’m not in the least bit like these guys. I’m not holy. I’m not a seminary grad. I’ve never attended a Catholic high school or university. I’ve never swilled bourbon or scotch (good or bad). I don’t sport a killer mullet. I don’t hike snowy mountain peaks. I don’t ski or play ice hockey. I don’t speak German, Spanish, French, or ancient Greek (although I took Latin for a few years way back when). I’m not sanguine. Not even close. I’ve been to Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Denver, yet don’t feel the need to visit again. God bless, y’all. I’m not a Broncos fan (oh, so not a Broncos fan!). And I don’t have opinions on one-piece versus two-piece bikinis or rites of circumcision (not that they do on this last point, I just said that to be funny). But I love theology, the Catholic faith, and all things Hans Urs von Balthasar (although he may be labeled a heretic in some quarters). I’m imperfect and vulnerable to being a melancholic jerk. That’s me. Pleased to meet you.
So who are the friends I don’t actually have but wish I had? The guys who run the podcast Catholic Stuff You Should Know. They’re diocesan priests who are in an association of like-minded dudes called the Companions of Christ. Fathers Nathan Goebel, John Nepil, Michael O’Loughlin, and Mike Rapp. And no, I’m not necessarily jonesing for a shout out from them on their podcast (although that’d be cool, no doubt). They are inspired by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus’ call for a “new evangelization” by means of social media. These guys are not yo’ Mama’s priests. They’re actually cool. And best of all, they’re faithful yet imperfect. They’re both good and bad, honest, and genuinely themselves. I wish I had more friends like them. Wanna be my friend?
Here are 10 things (not in any order) I learned from the Podcast Catholic Stuff You Should Know:
- Obviously, Sour Patch Kids and Scotch are a match made in heaven and will definitely lead every one of us to holiness and a stronger relationship with God and His Son. Bitter and smooth, harsh and throat-burning, this combo can wake us up to the reality of our depravity and lead us unto much-needed penance and repentance. Again and again, these are like a frat paddle made for self-mortifying holy prostration. Goebel, stop smackin’ into the microphone. We love you.
- It’s crucial and humbling to “Be More Human.” That is, God hasn’t called us to be perfect Christians or Navy Seal Catholics. We’re called to be ourselves, to be human, because to be human is to be made in the image of God–it’s to be part of a glorious, mystical union of Creator-God and His Cherished Creation. We’re blessed to be human and although we can strive to be saints, to be more than lukewarm Christians, we’re called to be holy simply by doing small things with great love and compassion.
- We CANNOT be Pro-Choice, OK with pre-marital sex, OK with birth control, and OK with gay marriage and still be Catholic. Look, we live in a “don’t judge others” culture. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Pride parades and transgender restrooms. But not judging others is not exactly what Jesus asks of us. He didn’t ask us not to judge others. We judge people all the time: good and bad, right and wrong, guilty and the innocent. We needn’t cast stones. Jesus judged people. He often judged his disciples for lacking faith and conclusive certainty (although they expressed certitude that Jesus was the Messiah), and he made judgments about demons and Satan. He offered blessed admonitions and spiritual advice; He healed the sick and exorcised demons, which are kinds of judgment. He also served the poor, meek, sick, and all sinners alike. He did not come to serve the rich and wealthy, nor did He come to serve only the righteous. He came to redeem humanity, the poor in spirit, with his sacrifice. He judged people as being good and bad, and sick or in need of repentance, and He served all of us with unconditional love. He loved the sinner. He condemned the sin. Jesus judged others, and forgave them, without condemnation, hatred, or guile. He died for everyone, everywhere. He denounced sin under the aegis of our growing proximity to God. Therefore, He asked us to live for God and set aside our attachments to sin and sinfulness. Of course, that’s easier said than done. We’re human, after all.
- Jesus likely would have been agnostic on the issue of one-piece versus two-piece bikinis for the lovely ladies. Winter flesh let loose for the summer sun. Should we be concerned about lustful thoughts? Can our lusts lead us to sin? Sure, we know this. But we can be masters of our appetites and that’s the point. Again, much easier said than done.
- Hans Urs von Balthasar (probably) wasn’t a heretic even though he thought that hell is empty. And perhaps even that hell doesn’t really exist, because God’s infinite compassion and mercy can extend to all sinners, felons, criminals, and moral reprobates. Those who claim that Balthasar was a heretic need to look up the definition of heresy (according to Canon Law, etc) . Balthasar is like the man!
- Pornography corrupts the mind and agitates the soul in misery and unhappiness, leading us farther away from God and deeper into disordered sinfulness. Ignatian spirituality can help us combat evil thoughts.
- We shouldn’t feel Catholic guilt and shame when we falter and make mistakes.
- Our Christian faith might be imperfect and tarnished by our weaknesses, limitations, and concupiscence, but we shouldn’t embrace mediocrity, banalities, and meaningless ways of thinking in settling for less than sainthood. No more “It is what it is.”
- Christianity and science are not incompatible. The Church embraces creation and evolution. Oh, yeah! Then what about Copernicus!? Oh, yeah! Then what about Galileo!? Like astronomers, Catholics can also look to the stars and moon. And we can also marvel at the big and small stuff we’re made from. Love Robert Spitzer on the new proofs for the existence of God. Love it! Go Spitzer! Go Spitzer!
- Yep, not only does God exist but truth is objective (as opposed to relative to each person / subjective / socially constructed); God will oftentimes lead us kicking and screaming to Him and His truth by means of the world’s beauty–and the beauty of the Church–its theology, art, architecture, music, Eucharistic mystery, and liturgy.
I hope you discover the fun banter, the fun episodes, and feel renewed in your faithfulness by listening to Catholic Stuff We Should Know. Try YouTube as well. It really is worth the listen! God bless and peace be with you!