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John 3:16

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For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16).

And with these words of our Lord, himself, I bid farewell to the Youthtalk blog. I’ve enjoyed writing each week, but the moment has come to rest the keyboard. The Lord has blessed me with a number of ministries onto which I wish to focus my priestly energies more fully, and so I take leave of my blogging. Thank you so much for hanging with me these past 5 years of Youthtalk. I am most appreciative.

Pray hard, love each other, trust unfailingly in Jesus, and may God bless you abundantly.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Steve

Will you?

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Will you spend time with me today and allow me to comfort your heart and heal your wounds?

Will you listen to my Mother and heed her words of counsel and advice?

Will you pick up your DME rosary and pray for peace and justice and reconciliation?

Will you finally forgive … even though the pain remains?

Will you go to daily Mass this week and allow my Body and Blood to be your food and your salvation?

Will you overcome your fear and your shame and come to me in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Will you stop talking about your friends and trashing your classmates (and yes, I do know what they did to you)?

Will you trust me when I ask for your time and your heart?

Will you stop trying to overcome your pride and lust and anger by your own efforts … and finally come to me for help?

Will you believe me when I say that you’re beautiful?

Will you say yes when I ask you to enter the seminary?

Will you say yes when I invite you to be my consecrated bride?

Will you tell your parents that you love them (please, for me)?

Will you at least consider that a good college and a high paying job may not be the path to happiness?

Will you allow me to love you?

Jesus is calling us. How will we respond?

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

The Fire Within

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One of the largest geological features in our galaxy is not far from home. Olympus Mons is a volcano, it is on Mars, and it is absolutely enormous! Olympus Mons has a diameter of well over 300 miles and its 20+ mile height allows it to nearly escape the thin Martian atmosphere and poke into space. Nothing on earth comes close to comparing.

Even the Himalayas, with all their snow-capped grandeur, would only serve as mere foothills to Olympus Mons. But as impressive as Olympus Mons looks . . . it is completely lifeless. Millions of years have passed since the volcano last belched fire and molten rock. Olympus Mons is utterly dead.

Sadly, there is a human comparison to Olympus Mons. For there are many people wandering the hallways of life – maybe even you or me – who look marvelous from the outside, but who are utterly dead on the inside. They – or we – have ceased to be men or women of love. How utterly tragic!

Just like Olympus Mons was once an awesome engine of fire, heat, and light, so a man or woman who is filled with Christ’s love is similarly an awesome engine of fire, warmth, and light. The gospels tell us this light is indeed the light of the world. The also tell us that Jesus longed to see the world set afire with this love. Hearts emptied of this love – either by circumstance or choice – are places of bitter, bitter cold.

What is the spark to ignite this fire within us? Pope Emeritus Benedict gives a wonderful answer: “Being a Christian means essentially changing over from being for oneself to being for one another.” Not unlike a match striking the rough edge of the matchbox, when our hearts come into contact with a soul in need – fire! And when that spark of selflessness is animated by divine love – FIRE!

Olympus Mons, once so wonderfully and intensely alive, is now dead. The fire within has grown cold. What about you and me? Do we burn brightly and intensely with the fire of God’s love? If not, it’s time that we give of ourselves for the good of our neighbor.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

Catholic teens

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Is there a new Great Awakening afoot among our Catholic teens? No, there probably isn’t. Is a sense of revival sweeping through every facet of Catholic teen life? No, it doesn’t seem so. But make no mistake, God is at work in the hearts and souls of Catholic teens. I see it daily. Good things are happening. Discipleship is strong in many teens. Catholicism matters to them.

God’s hand was visible at last weekend’s high school youth rally. I saw it in the smiles of teens who freely chose a Saturday God event over other options. I saw it in the Catholic kids who dropped readily to their knees in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I saw it in the young souls who know that there is so much more to life than a good college, a good job, and a boatload of money.

God’s work is visible in the significant number of Catholic teenagers who attend morning Mass at their school or parish. Their ranks include star athletes, student government leaders, and talented artists. Young men attend. So do young ladies. They listen eagerly to God’s word. They receive with devotion Christ’s Body and Blood. They sacrifice time to make room for worship.

God’s touch is visible in the Catholic teens who humbly but persistently pray: for themselves, for others, for peace, for justice. These kids want to know God, for just knowing about him is insufficient. These kids care deeply about those who suffer, fall short, or live on the edges. Teens aren’t as selfish as many make them out to be. A lot of Catholic young people understand well the gospel command to lay down one’s life for another. They are ready to do so.

God’s mercy is visible in the countless Catholic teens who serve the poor, the homeless, and the forsaken. These kids feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit the sick. They reach out in love to those who are hard to love. They give of themselves so that life may be a little brighter for someone who lives in darkness.

God’s presence is visible in the Catholic teens who honestly discern a call to priesthood or the consecrated life. It’s particularly visible in the young men who abide by that call and enter seminary formation. It’s equally visible in the young women who walk the way of Scholastica, Catherine, and Teresa by entering convents and houses religious life. Many Catholic teens are called and the chosen are hearing that call with excitement.

God’s action is visible in Catholic teens who take their Confirmation preparation seriously. These high school students desire to grow deeper in love with Christ and his Church. They select saint names and sponsors with seriousness and sincerity. These young folks eagerly await the evening when the Holy Spirit will come anew upon them with courage and counsel and Fire.

Is every Catholic teen a genuine disciple? Sadly, the answer is no. Is every Catholic teen even a believer? This too must be answered in a negative manner. But make no mistake, God is at work in the hearts and souls of Catholic teens. I see it daily. What a privilege!

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

Malachi

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I’m not in the habit of regularly quoting the prophet, Malachi. Maybe it’s because he forcefully condemns the priests of his day – and consequently, the priests of today – for failing to provide Godly leadership. Maybe it’s because I haven’t spent a lot of time meditating on his words. Maybe it’s simply time that I begin quoting him more often. So here we go:

“You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God, and what do we profit by keeping his command, and going about in penitential dress in awe of the Lord of hosts? Rather must we call the proud blessed; for indeed evildoers prosper, and even tempt God with impunity,’” speaketh Malachi.

Have you ever been tempted in such a way? Indeed, we like to compare ourselves with others. And in the realm of the spiritual life, comparing my holiness to your holiness is a very tempting thing. It’s also a very damaging thing, but that doesn’t make the temptation any less severe.

And here, in the words that God speaks to Malachi, we see an enticing twist to the destructive game of comparison. For as the Lord points out, when we observe Godless behavior seemingly go unpunished – and even rewarded – we may begin to question our own efforts at holiness.

Why am following God’s commandments if justice does not prevail? Why should I live for goodness when evil seems to flaunt its faults? Is it worth living for God and his people? Is it worth striving for holiness?

Turning again to Malachi, listen to how the Lord responds to these fears:

Then they who fear the Lord spoke with one another, and the Lord listened attentively; and a record book was written before him of those who fear the Lord and trust in his name. And they shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my own special possession.

Those are powerful words. “And the Lord listened attentively.” Think of that, God listens to our words and listens to our hearts. He cares and wants to know what burdens or troubles us. And he responds. “They shall be mine,” promises the Lord, “my own special possession.”

We can pray for those who practice evil, and our duty is to try to turn them from their evil path. But their practice of evil should in no way tempt us to join in the wrongdoing. We certainly have enough ungodliness in our own particular hearts. God knows everything. He knows what evil dwells in our souls and he knows what good dwells there as well. He listens attentively.

And in the words with which Malachi brings the Old Testament to a close, the Day of the Lord is coming, “the great and terrible day,” on which the Lord threatens to, “strike the land with doom.” Remember what Christ taught, that the wheat and the weeds necessarily must grow together, but at the end of time, God knows who is ready for salvation.

Let’s not worry about what others do or fail to do. Let’s not concern ourselves over the question of God’s judgment on the wicked. Knowing that we ourselves share in that wickedness, let’s strive to put our own houses in order. And may we take comfort from the prophet, Malachi: “They shall be mine,” says the Lord. Being the Lord’s is where our focus should be.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

Fr. Steve Schreiber

You know you are a Jesus freak when you get really, really excited about praying the Rosary. Yep – that’s me – I stand convicted. As a kid, I don’t remember praying the Rosary often, if ever. When I was a young adult, Our Lady was moving me closer to Jesus and the Rosary had a huge role to play in that movement. And now, as a rapidly graying, middle-age priest in possession of a bald spot, I absolutely love praying the Rosary.

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. Pope St. Pius V established this feast in 1573 to commemorate the victory of Christian forces over the invading Turks at the Battle of Lepanto. The victory is attributed to Mary and the praying of the Rosary. Each of us today has battles that we must fight. Each of us today has people under our care who we wish to see victorious. And each of us today has need of the care, intercession, and love of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Certainly, there are many ways to pray. The Lord himself taught us to pray the Our Father. The Mass is a prayer, par excellence, offering grace upon grace. But if you are not already doing so, please consider praying the Rosary. In fact, please consider praying the Rosary daily.

And don’t just take my word for it, the saints and the popes will offer you the same advice. Legend has it that Our Lady herself offered the Rosary as a gift to St. Dominic. St. Louis de Montfort wrote lovingly of the Rosary’s power. The image of Bl. John Paul II walking through the forest and praying the Rosary while on holiday is a powerful one. And just this summer, Pope Francis urged us to pray the Rosary because it will, “sustain us in the battle against the evil one and his accomplices.”

As a Rosary-carrying Jesus freak, I love to be on road trips because they afford me a wonderful opportunity to pray all 20 decades with my beads. Maybe you pray the beads at home or in church. Some like to pray them as they walk. One person may focus particularly on the mysteries while another focuses particularly on the prayers. Placing an intention on each decade is another popular tool. Who wouldn’t appreciate the gift of a Rosary decade prayed especially for them? You get the idea. Pray the Rosary. And watch the graces abound!

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

Amazed

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The hot topic in my sophomore Catholic Tradition class this week was polar bears. Of course it was, right? You see, we were studying the early centuries of Church history, and that study includes the influences of classical Greek culture.

Alexander the Great – clearly one of the “greatest” figures in spreading the Greek culture – developed the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, naming it after himself (as a side note, I indicated to my students that naming a city after yourself is a sign of possessing swag, but I was then informed that swag is no longer a word that those on the cutting edge of cultural coolness use, unless of course it’s used in the ironic sense … so I stood corrected).

In ancient Alexandria, there was the most amazing of all libraries, there was a museum, and there was a zoo. Alexander, when he conquered foreign lands, was in the habit of returning exotic animals to be studied by his illustrious teacher, Aristotle (yes, I’m doing a lot of name-dropping here, and I appreciate the fact that you are rather impressed).

Hence scholars such as Wallace Everett Caldwell have reported that the zoo even included a polar bear. Some of the sophomores bought the polar bear speculation, some of them rejected the possibility, and some hoped that it was fact simply because a polar bear’s presence in ancient Egypt would be so absolutely, doggone amazing!

It’s good to be amazed, isn’t it? When faced with a concept or a reality or an idea or a person that seems to be just beyond the horizon of our understanding – and yet we want so badly to understand or verify or believe – amazement bubbles up from within us. Many of us are amazed by all that astronomers and cosmologists are discovering in our universe.

The inner workings of the human body continue to be a source of constant amazement. And it least for your humble blogger, volcanism, meteorology, the finding of new animal species, and the inability of the Cleveland Browns to draft a franchise quarterback, all leave me amazed.

Each of these sources of amazement, though, pale in comparison to God. The Trinity, the Incarnation, a carpenter walking on water, the Transfiguration, forgiveness freely given, tax collectors leaving everything at the sound of their name, saints who can heal and levitate and read hearts, and the fact that I am loved by the God of the universe – now I am really amazed! In Luke 9:43 we read that, “they were all amazed at his every deed.” Jesus Christ is present still. Jesus Christ works miracles still. Jesus Christ touches hearts and changes lives – still.

Are we amazed or have we become too jaded by the culture and too hesitant to step beyond the horizon of our own little worlds? Take a look around. Take a look within.

Amazement – God’s amazement – abounds! And as cool as it may be to consider a polar bear living in ancient Egypt, the reality that the Holy Spirit dwells in my heart and in yours … now that is a reason to be amazed!

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

Worry

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The Lord commands us not to worry. I struggle to obey that command. Worry is definitely one of my moral weaknesses. Yet with the fear of equivocating here, let me say this: I do indeed believe that the Lord has our every concern in his hands and that he will indeed bring good out of every situation. But when faced with a troublesome circumstance, my intellect assents to God’s providence while my emotions succumb to human frailty and fear. Hence I worry.

Without a doubt, some situations rightly weigh heavy upon our spirits. Will peace prevail over war? Will my loved one accept God’s mercy and come to conversion? Will our leaders choose justice over expediency? I’d like to think that there is a type of righteous worry. And when it comes to our youth and our youth evangelization efforts, my righteous worry is ubiquitous.

Succinctly said, I worry that the faith of our young people is being devastated by neglect: my neglect, your neglect, their neglect. Each of us, from our particular station in life, has a solemn responsibility to strive not only for our own salvation, but also for the salvation of others. The young people placed under our care need you and me to be serious about the business of evangelization and kingdom building. But I worry – hopefully from a sincere and humble heart – that we are failing.

Looking first at my own station in life and my own conscience: Are we priests standing as courageous watchmen for our youth to warn them of danger and guard them from evil? Are we too concerned about being liked and not concerned enough about being brutally honest in the face of sin and spiritual emptiness? Are we too selfish in regards to our personal time and too shamefully lazy to do the difficult work of bringing youth to Christ?

Parents: Aware that no one can give what he or she does not possess, are you working diligently to strengthen your own relationship with Christ? Are you more concerned with your son or daughter’s salvation than with their college choice or career path? Are you supportive of their desire to participate in the Church’s life – and possibly – to even follow a call to the priesthood or religious life?

Youth leaders and religious education leaders: Are you honest enough to admit that the old ways of transmitting the faith are simply no longer working? Are you praying – daily, dutifully, and devotedly – for the young people in your charge? Are you going the extra mile to seek out the lost and to save the spiritually dying?

Young people: Are you choosing pleasures and diversions over prayer, Mass, and the sacraments? Are you putting the same efforts into your faith that you eagerly put into sports, theater, and school? Are you willing to see the culture for what it truly is – falsely alluring and bent on your destruction?

Yes, I worry, but not without hope. We are all in God’s care and we are all sustained by his grace. He wants our salvation! He wants our efforts to be fruitful! He wants the love we give to heal, change, and enliven this world! Is there indeed such a thing as righteous worry? I pray there is… for my worry continues.

Be assured of my prayers,
Fr. Steve

Dissipation

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One Sunday, when I was still in the Coast Guard, my ship was scrambled for a minor rescue case. There was no immediate danger, a fishing vessel had simply broken down at sea, and we were being asked to tow them back into port. When I received the call I was in the middle of a softball game. Being the competitive sort, I wasn’t happy to depart from the game. As some of the guys on the crew had families, and it was a weekend, they probably weren’t real thrilled by the call either. But we went.

We burned a lot of fuel, we burned a lot of time and energy, and when we arrived at the coordinates for the rescue – guess what – the fishing vessel wasn’t there. Yep, we had been given the wrong latitude and longitude! Those of us who already weren’t real happy about being out there were now really, really unhappy! So we burned more time, more fuel, and more energy, sailed to the new – correct – coordinates, and eventually brought the fishing vessel back into port. Unfortunately, because we initially traveled in the wrong direction, a lot of resources were unnecessarily dissipated in our rescue effort. And in our lives as Christians, it’s very easy for the same thing to occur.

This Sunday’s gospel – as I’m sure you remember – was the story of the prodigal son. But before the pigs, and the merciful father, and the elder son, and the fatted calf, we listened to these words in the story: The younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation (Luke 15:13). In many ways, you and I are that younger child. We have been given an amazing inheritance: nothing less than the promise of God that we will reign forever as his princes and princesses. And – unfortunately, sadly, tragically – we too often squander this inheritance on a life of dissipation.

There is a fancy Latin phrase in the writings of St. Augustine which basically says this: plenty of force and energy but all in the wrong direction. Is that the case with you or me? We can easily do a self evaluation by looking honestly at our prayer life. If we are not daily, faithfully, dutifully spending a meaningful amount of time in silent communion with God, then we are heading in the wrong direction and our inheritance is being squandered. The same can be said about our attendance at Sunday Mass, if we are regularly absent from the Eucharist, we are heading quickly in the wrong direction.

I marvel at the teens I see each day at school. They put tremendous amounts of effort and energy into their academic work, their music, their theater, their athletics, and even into their social lives. But if Christ is not at the very center of that energy, all of their effort is being dissipated into the nothingness of a spiritual vacuum. If Jesus isn’t foremost in their lives, their status as sons and daughters of the one, true God is in jeopardy. And if God is not number one, they – or we – are exerting great force, but achieving little. But this need not be so.

It is so important that we recall often the basic message of Jesus Christ: that although we humans are sinners and deserving of eternal condemnation, Jesus, because he loves us, freely chose to share our humanity, suffer death, rise again on the third day, and in the process set us free for a life of glorious fulfillment and everlasting joy. To spend our resources on something other than this is lunacy. To squander our inheritance on those things that can never last is beyond foolishness. To choose the empty promises of the world over the already established kingdom of God is inconceivable. Jesus loves us, Jesus saved us, Jesus sustains us. Why would we ever wish to squander our inheritance on a life of dissipation?

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Like the sharp, jagged edges of torn metal, I’ve noticed how the negativity of the world has been increasingly cutting into my spirit. Selfish words, destructive attitudes, needless pessimism, paucity of faith – all of this wounds me. I’ve become sensitive to it. I’ve grown to hate and detest it.

The irony here is that I often practice and add to the negativity I so abhor. With my angry words, my criticism, my snarky sarcasm, and my encouragements to discouragement, I become those very edges of metal which cut and tear the tender hearts of others. How sad!

Maybe because of all this, I was recently struck by the words of Psalm 100: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Yes the world is a tough place, yes our Christian faith demands much – even all – from us, yes we can be disappointed by others (even as we disappoint them), and yes there sometimes seems little rationale for hope, but Christ can wipe away our fears and failures with a simple wave of his nail-marked hand. Negativity is not from God, it’s from us. The Christian seeks the light rather than fearing the darkness. We are moving forward into glory, not descending into the horror of hell. So why would there be any other option than to, “serve the Lord with gladness?”

We are blessed, you know. God is working tirelessly in our lives. And it is in the most difficult and trying moments that he often does his most impressive work. But let’s make sure that we are not adding to the Lord’s burden by sowing negativity in his vineyard. Rather than selfish words, maybe we can simply keep our mouths shut. Instead of a brooding attitude, it would be so much better if we sought the good in life (because the good is more pervasive than we imagine). In the place of unhelpful pessimism, let’s try some God-inspired hope. And where faith is in short supply, it may be wise to do the audacious: to believe in spite of our doubts.

Serve the Lord with gladness! He wants to fill us with joy and he wants to carry our burdens. He asks us to be light in the darkness and he asks us to trust in his love. There is plenty of negativity in the world, but far too little inspiration. So as we smile, pray, laugh, avoid speaking ill, and overlook the faults of others, God’s beauty will pervade our hearts, our lives, and our world. This is his promise. Serve the Lord with gladness!

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve