There is an important difference between religious respect and religious relativism. The former demands a charitable attitude that acknowledges the movement of God in every human heart; the latter shrugs its shoulders and says that every religion is really the same. Showing respect gives dignity to the believer; religious relativism is patronizing.

The New Atheist movement, allegedly unbiased because those involved don’t believe in any religion (which is the worst bias off all,) argue other religions should all get along with one another because there’s no way to say that one religion is more valid than another. Essentially, we should see our religious beliefs as our opinion and we should respect other people’s opinions, just like we might differ on tastes in movies and food.

Should people of different faiths find ways to charitably live with each other? Of course. And since the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church has been a world leader in gathering people of different faiths together and has been one of the strongest  advocates for religious freedom in every continent. But we don’t do that because we think what we believe is just our opinion. We do it because of our love for all humanity, no matter what they believe. We do it because of our faith, not in spite of it.

Though we share many things in common with other beliefs, we also acknowledge important differences. Those differences help us define our faith. And at the heart of Christianity is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

This historical event makes Christianity unique among other world religions. With the exception of Judaism, the many of the doctrines and stories of other faiths have come from private revelations. An angel spoke to Muhammad (Islam.) One also spoke to Joseph Smith (Mormonism.) And though private revelations are a part of our Deposit of Faith, the historical reality of how God revealed Himself to the world is what they are grounded on. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

Those who are Jewish acknowledge that Jesus existed and, though he taught many good things, He was not God—He did not rise from the dead. Muslims believe Jesus was a great prophet, but also say He was not God—He did not rise from the dead. There are many core values and beliefs that Christians share with Jews and Muslims, and the Catholic Church teaches that we all pray to the same God, though we have a different understanding of Him. But that’s not to say that one religion is the same as another.

There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. There was an historical event that has to be accounted for. This is more than a parable or a fictitious story. History records that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by Rome and then the body disappeared. His believers claimed to have seen Him risen from the dead, and almost all of those were tortured and killed because of their belief.

Alternatives for the resurrection don’t make sense. Was the body stolen by His followers? Unlikely Rome would let that slide without more crucifixions. Perhaps Jesus didn’t die, just fainted? This is known as the “swoon” theory and is even more unlikely than the “stolen” one. It seems impossible that a man who underwent such torture could wake up, roll away the stone himself, and then… overcome Roman guards?

And what of the martyrdom of His followers, who underwent painful deaths vowing that Christ had risen? If you were lying about something like that, at what point do break? None of them did.

In the wake of the resurrection, Christianity was persecuted by sects of Judaism and Romans. If either of these two groups could have produced the body of Jesus that would have ended the argument. But they didn’t. They couldn’t.

Because there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

No matter how much we might agree with people of other faiths or people of good will, we believe that it is a fact that Jesus Christ, Son of God, rose from the dead. That defines who we are. And it divides us from other beliefs.

Jesus Christ either rose from the dead or He didn’t. This isn’t a matter of opinion that we can “agree to disagree” on. To raise the stakes even higher: it means that Christianity is either right, or it is wrong.

There is a reason why Easter is the highest holy feast of the Church. Everything in human history led to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and everything has followed from it since. It was the moment that made us who we are. This was the moment that revealed the depths of God’s love for us. This was the moment that made salvation possible. Sin and death were conquered. The Church perpetually participates in this moment at every Mass. The Sacraments all flow from this event.

So if we shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, I think it happened, but maybe it didn’t,” then Christianity is replaced with, “Jesus was a good teacher who taught us to love each other.”

The Jews would agree with this. The Muslims would agree with this. Even the atheists would agree with this. There is a lot of pressure for those who follow Christ make that the “Good News” and to stop focusing on the divisive issue of the resurrection.

But there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

The Good News of Jesus Christ was not just to love each other. It was also about how much God loves us and what He did to save us from our sin. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that through Him we might be saved” (John 3:16-17.) Jesus Christ, second person of the Trinity, Word of God made flesh, came to die for our sins. “For this is proof of God’s love for us: that Christ died for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8.) And as we say at Mass, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory!”

The historical reality of the empty tomb points to another truth: Jesus will come again in glory. And at that time, there will be no “opinions” about God. We will know Him as He is.

For now, however, we only know Him partially. We know Him by what He has revealed. We know Him by what He has done. Some would claim because we don’t fully know Him then we don’t know Him at all—but that is absurd. It would be like suggesting a couple who are engaged don’t know anything about each other because they’re not married yet.

Let us unite in Christian charity with people of other faiths or those who have no faith at all. Let us work together for the common good to build a civilization of love. But let us not forget there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem, and that Christ will come again. Let us not be afraid to tell others this “Good News,” and engage in respectful dialogue about what we believe.

For what we believe isn’t just a matter of faith, it’s a matter of fact. And if it’s not, then it’s not worthy to believe in at all.

gods_design_for_marriage_umjrThis is written for those who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Gay marriage has dominated the headlines in every major media source these past few days. Equal signs are everywhere in social media. Lawyers debate the “legality” of same-sex marriage. Proponents of gay marriage proclaim this as the new “civil rights movement.”

Often missing in this conversation is what God has to say about it.

That makes sense, I suppose, because the focus has been on the legality and not the spirituality of it. The Supreme Court doesn’t care what the Bible has to say. In a legal system that intentionally separates itself from the Church and Church teachings, how could one argue against it? Arguing against same-sex marriage without the foundation of God’s revelation is an uphill, if not impossible, battle. The lawyers tried to do that before the Supreme Court last week, and in a few months will see how that works out.

I’m not here to talk about the legal issues—I think those have been talked to death enough in the media. As a Christian, I’m happy when the law coincides with my faith, but I don’t necessarily expect it to happen. We who follow Christ are, “in the world but not of the world” (cf. John 15:19.)

What is more troubling to me is the common argument that, were Jesus Christ alive today, he would support same-sex marriage and homosexual activity. Few people are brazen enough to say that statement so boldly, but I find that underlying many arguments.

Take for example Dan Savage’s speech in his anti-bullying talks. He says, “the Bible was wrong about slavery and its wrong about homosexuality.” As if the slavery mentioned in the Bible had any comparison to the horrific kinds of slavery that was legal in the United States or currently goes on in the world (slavery in Scripture was more of an indentured servitude than a lack of freedom and rights. If anything, Scripture made it clear that even if someone is a slave, they are still part of the family of God should be treated as such.)

The heart of his argument is that even the Old Testament is out of date with the New Testament. Laws changed from the Old to the New, so why not homosexuality as well?

He has a point there. The morality expected of followers of Jesus Christ is different than what was expected of the Jews. But it wasn’t “changed.” It was elevated.

For example, the Sixth Commandment stated, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” For the Jews that was a specific action: you cannot sleep with another man’s wife. Jesus, however, elevated and fulfilled that commandment: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28.)

He did the same with marriage. “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 19:8.)

The impression that some have that the Old Testament is “really strict” but the New Testament is “really loose” couldn’t be farther from the truth. Jesus not only cared about our outward actions but also our inward ones. That means the morality of Christ is elevated, not weakened. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Profits. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17.)

And yet when it comes to homosexuality, many suggest (explicitly or implicitly) that Jesus “abolished” that law. I don’t see that anywhere in the Bible.

Of course, it’s a common argument to suggest that if Jesus were alive today he might say different things, as if he was “held back” by the culture at the time. Such a statement is ridiculous. Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, told the Jewish people that the Temple would be destroyed, and knew that He would be killed in the most violent and reprehensible way a person could be killed. So at what point do you think He was scared to tell the truth? At what moment was He worried and thought to Himself, “Wow, I can’t say that! I’ll just have to wait for humanity to mature a bit.”

Jesus said that He was, “the Way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6.) He was either right or He wasn’t.

There are billions of people in this world who think that he was wrong. In fact, many specifically don’t believe in Christ over this very issue (though most other world religious agree.) I respect that. But what concerns me is the growing amount of Christians who are silent, or even becoming supportive of, these cultural issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Did Jesus ever specifically speak about homosexuality? No, He didn’t use that word. But He did speak about the importance of marriage and what it was really about: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’” (Matthew 19:4-5.) In the context of that teaching, His message was clear: marriage is for a man and a woman, and sex is a part of marriage.

Though it sounds culturally harsh to even state this simple truth, people of the same gender can’t have sex with each other. They can simulate it, but that’s all. Their bodies weren’t made for such an interaction. They were not “made for each other.”

Again, saying things like that in today’s culture makes you sound like a bigot. It’s not “right” to suggest that the sexual activity between two men or two women are any different, or better, than a man and a woman. But there is a difference.

The even deeper issue regards our gender. Does being a man mean I just have a penis? If I’m surgically altered can I be a woman? Same-sex marriage argues that gender is irrelevant in marriage. It also argues that gender difference is unnecessary for raising a child. Decades of sociological research that said a child was best served by being raised by a man and a woman, a mother and a father, are being ignored. “That was just in reference to single mothers,” the critics say.

And now we get to the difficult issues. Am I saying that a homosexual couple can’t raise a child with love and support? No. Because a single mother can raise a child with love and support. But it’s not the ideal. There is a reason why God created us as man and as woman, created man and woman for each other, and why their sexual union brings about life. Children should be raised by the mother and father who created them.

But what of all the children given up for adoption? If the mother and father aren’t available to raise those children, then another man or woman becoming their mother and father is the next best thing.

I imagine I’ve upset and even offended some people by writing that last statement. Some writers like to write offensive things to get attention. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to highlight the truth of what Christ taught. And God did not give us his revelation to belittle us or enslave us. He came to give us the truth, “and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32.) God’s truth is often in contrast to what the world believes. But He came to tell us what was right, not what we want to believe.

Again, there are many who don’t agree with what the Bible or Jesus taught. And so their support of same-sex marriage makes total sense. If we were not created in the image and likeness of God, if we were just amoebas who crawled out of some primordial soup, if there is no plan and purpose for our lives and our gender is merely a biological accident, then what does it matter?

If you are a follower of Christ, then it does matter. Gender matters. Sex matters. Marriage matters.

I am heartbroken to hear that many psychologists today are not allowed to help people overcome their same-sex attractions. There are many who argue people are “born that way” when it comes to same-sex attractions, but that’s not accurate. (To be clear: the Church teaches that same sex attractions are not sinful.) There are many who manifest same-sex attractions and behaviors because of conditions, and even trauma, in their life. I know a number of them who through counseling have been restored to heterosexuality.

I actually had to think a bit before I got to the word “restored” because I know “cured” or “healed” would be offensive. And that’s why many psychologists aren’t allowed to deal with the issue. If you can be “cured” of same-sex attractions, aren’t you suggesting it’s a disease?

But I wonder what would happen if a heterosexual came in to a counselor’s office and said, “could you help me have same-sex attractions?” If we truly believe in freedom and equality, and we acknowledge the power and benefit of psychological counseling, why can’t somebody use that science to help them be the person they want to be? If someone doesn’t want to have same-sex attractions, why can’t they have a professional help them?

Christians who are silent on these issues often try to have a “live and let live” mentality. But the real issue here is not about accepting diversity—it ends up being about forcing conformity. In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities had to stop providing adoptions because they were being forced to place children with same-sex couples. In England, Christian and Catholic schools are not allowed to teach what the Bible teaches about sexuality because the Bible is “anti-gay.” Already in public schools in the United States children are taught that gender doesn’t matter.

The equality that’s being talked about so much these days ends up being quite “unequal” where Christians are concerned. And here we find the problem with a society that pretends to embrace everybody’s diverse beliefs. When someone believes something is “true,” that implies that there are also things they believe that are “false.” There’s a serious conflict here. And if people of Christian faith aren’t more vocal and respectfully engage in this conversation (which is what I’m trying to encourage with this blog) then being silent means losing our “rights.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, talking about the second coming of Christ, says that, “the persecution that accompanies (the Church’s) pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of inequity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy against the truth” (CCC 675.) The definition of “apostasy” is: “the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief” (The New Oxford American Dictionary.) There are many followers of Christ who are tempted to abandon their religious (and political) belief because it seems the easy solution or because they are deceived into an false image of Christ who taught us to “accept everybody, challenge nobody.” But Jesus was never afraid to challenge his followers, even when it led to persecution.

John Paul II wrote, “Following Christ, the Church seeks the truth, which is not always the same as the majority opinion” (John Paul II, Familaris Consortio, 11.) Though it’s unpopular to say, I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe Him when He said that marriage was made for a man and for a woman. I believe God when He spoke that we were made as male and as female, and that man and woman were created to be one flesh.

I also believe it when He said that we were all made in the image and likeness of God. I believe it when Jesus said that we are to, “love one another as I have loved you.” I don’t believe anyone should be denied the respect and dignity that comes with being a child of God because of their beliefs, their sexual attraction, their ethnicity, or any reason. That’s not just my opinion but also the Catholic Church’s: “(People with same sex attractions) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358.)

That’s not a small point. The greatest commandment is love. There are those who believe the source of the bullying, discrimination, and violence against people with same sex attractions is the fault of Christianity and the Bible. I won’t deny there are some who claim to be Christian but act like the devil, especially on this issue. But they’re not the majority, and even if they were, they’re not right. Christianity teaches to love those you disagree with, even those who persecute you. I’ll be the first to admit that followers of Christ (like me) don’t often live up to His teachings. But Christ is the only way we can live with our differences and live in peace. For an example of what happens when you completely remove Christian morality from politics, see at what happened to Germany under Hitler. Jews, Catholics, and homosexuals all perished together in those concentration camps.

We all have the right to be treated with dignity. But Christ tells us that sex and marriage isn’t a “right.” It is a gift, and should be honored and protected as such. I’m sure it is painful for people with same-sex attractions to not have been given that gift. To not be able to have sex with each other. To not become “one flesh” and create life together. But changing the legality of marriage does not change the reality of marriage. And the consequences of doing so are far reaching.

PS. This blog wasn’t intended to give a complete overview of the Catholic Church’s teaching on sex and homosexuality. For a fuller treatment, go here.

(As always, you are welcome to post comments. I’m not sure how many will read this blog, or how many want to comment, but the last time I wrote a controversial blog I spent the whole day monitoring and editing and responding to comments. As a married man with kids and a full-time job, I’m afraid I don’t have time to do that. I said what I wanted to in my blog; you can say what you like in the comments. Unlike previous blogs, I’m allowing all comments to go unfiltered, and I ask that everyone would be respectful in tone towards each other, free from profanity, and not necessarily feel that every statement has to be responded to. I reserve the right to remove anything vulgar, demeaning, or obscene.)

Ouch.

If you’re not into reading X-rays, let me explain it to you: see that big crack in the femur? Yeah, that shouldn’t be there.

Two weeks ago my son Bobby (10 years old) was playing basketball. He fell backwards and everyone heard a loud CRACK! If you think that’s an unusual way to break a femur, it is. The doctors have diagnosed him with “fibrus dysplasia,” a weakening of the bone. That makes his already difficult recovery longer, and perhaps means he will need future surgeries to “augment” the bone.

Needless to say, it’s been a crazy few weeks. I was at the airport about to get on a plane to Michigan when I got the call. I had to cancel the event, but of course I knew the Holy Spirit would take care of it (He did.) To all in Wixon, sorry I missed out and hope to see you next year!

After spending five days at a hospital and two days in my living room (Bobby can’t yet climb stairs) I drove to Syracuse for the “Race to the Cross Rally” and then down to Philadelphia for the “Generation Phaith” conference. I brought my band with me and we had a great time, though my heart was a bit heavy with things going on at home.

And then on Monday, I flew off to England, which is where I’m writing from now.

How could I leave my family in such a state of crisis? I’ve been asking myself that, too 🙂 As we all know, sometimes things just need to get done. A residency requirement is part of keeping me in my doctoral program, but the good folks have shortened my time here so I’m coming home next week (instead of the following.) And thankfully my mom flew in to help around the house while I’m gone.

I’m grateful for all who have been praying for us during this time. Your love and support mean a lot.

And now for something completely different…

Videos! A number of my scripts have come to life over the past few months, and I’ve been delinquent in posting them. So here they are. Hope you are blessed by them and can use them in your ministry.

Here’s a video I wrote as a reflection on the love that God the Father has for us, based on a true story that Dr. Scott Hahn uses as the introduction of his book, A Father Who Keeps His Promises. Produced by the ever amazing folks at Outside Da Box.

I remember looking down and seeing blood on my hands. My head was still spinning from the line of cocaine that I snorted in the bathroom. The prostitute I just had sex with was face down on the bed, murdered. Did I do it? I couldn’t remember. I heard sirens outside and footsteps running up the stairs to my apartment. That was the moment that I realized I needed a Savior. I needed Jesus.

Okay, none of that is true.

Truth be told, I have a very boring conversion story: I always loved Jesus. And then I loved Him more.

I was the good kid. Never drank. Never did drugs. Knew to save sex for marriage. In fact, I lived in fear of letting others down: my parents, my teachers, or even God. I was a straight A student and prayed every night.

So it might not be a surprise when I tell you that one of the most exciting moments in my conversion is when I did something that many consider boring:

I read the Catechism.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but the English translation was released in the spring of 1994. I was living in Orlando, Florida bouncing between two jobs. Some evenings I would play in bars with my band, “The Crowd.” Other evenings I worked at an improvisational comedy club. No matter what I did I was usually out until one or two in the morning, followed by a late night/early morning snack at the only restaurant in the area opened 24 hours—IHOP (which is where I often encountered a young Shaq and his entourage, but that’s another story.)

Getting home at 3 AM I’d turn on the TV and watch CNN, the only thing that was on. And one evening/morning they reported that the Catechism of the Catholic Church was coming out on Tuesday, the first time the Catholic Church had a universal catechism in 500 years. I didn’t know what a “catechism” was, but apparently it contained all the official teachings of the Catholic Church. I knew I wanted it. No, I knew I needed it.

You see, though much of my family was Catholic and I attended Catholic schools, I never really felt like I knew for certain what Catholicism was all about. The only time I heard about the Eucharist was in a Humanities class when the teacher asked, “Do you realize that the Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ, not just a symbol? How many of you believe that?” And none of us raised our hands because we had never heard that before.

I had been blessed to have many friends who were Protestant, all of whom professed at times to know what Catholics believed. “You Catholics worship Mary,” one would say. “You think you’re saved by what you do, not by God’s grace,” would say another. This didn’t sound right to me, but I didn’t know how to defend it.

So to finally get the low down on what the Church actually taught was really exciting. I made sure on Monday night to set my alarm to get up early and head to my local Christian bookstore to get the Catechism.

But here was the thing—my local Christian bookstore didn’t carry it. “You should try a Catholic bookstore,” the woman at the counter said.

There are Catholic bookstores? This shows you how out of the loop I was.

So I drove around in haste to find my local Catholic bookstore. I was worried, assuming that every Catholic in Florida watched CNN and would buy up all the Catechisms before I could get one.

I eventually found “The Abbey Catholic Bookstore” in a strip mall squeezed between a pharmacy and a party supply shop. It was so small it felt more like a closet than a store. I remember lots of dark wood, crammed shelves, and no windows. But there on the counter was a stack of the book I coveted… The Catechism of the Catholic Church. I was clearly the first person to get one that day.

Immediately I bought it and took it home. I couldn’t wait to read it. I sat on my couch and looked through the index. There were some immediate questions I wanted to know the answer to: Was the Eucharist really the body and blood of Christ? (Answer: yes!) Do we really worship Mary? (Answer: not in the same way we adore Christ.) And what does the Church actually teach about sex? (Answer: Uh… you should just read it yourself!)

The answers made a lot of sense to me. It was like this book could articulate the things I always believed but never could explain. But once I had my questions answered, it started asking me things: Why did the Word become flesh? What is the purpose of life? Why do our prayers go unanswered sometimes?

As I read the answers, I grew deeper in my faith and fell more in love with the Catholic Church. If you asked me what I believed before the Catechism came out, I would have said I was a Christian who happened to go to a Catholic parish. But after reading the Catechism, I was Catholic.

I’ll never forget going to a Holy Thursday Mass a few weeks after I began reading the Catechism. They processed the Eucharist around the Church and reposed it in the Eucharistic Chapel. I followed it, fell to my knees, and wept. All I could say was, “You are God, You are God, You are God…”

And it was all because of the Catechism.

I know some people only use the Catechism to get answers to things they’re confused about. That’s not a bad place to start. But don’t just use the Catechism to get your questions answered—let it teach you about the faith.

At the end of every section is a summary of what it just taught titled, “IN BRIEF.” Start there. Make it a habit of your daily prayer to read just one IN BRIEF, and watch how your understanding of the faith deepens.

Speaking of prayer, many people suggest that you should start reading the Catechism at the last part, the one titled, “Christian Prayer.” I used to just make up prayer as I went along. But the Catechism gave me the wisdom of two thousand years of saints on how to grow more intimate with God, and my life has never been the same since.

The whole purpose of the Catechism isn’t to fill your head with religious trivia about what Catholics believe. It’s to help you experience “the love that never ends.” (CCC 25) John Paul II said that the aim of catechesis is “to put people, not only in touch with, but in intimacy with Jesus Christ.” And Cardinal Schönborn, who was one of the primary editors of the Catechism, said that Catechism was “a blueprint for the heart of Christ.”

Thanks to some wonderful Protestants who reached out to me in High School, I already had a deep love of Scripture. But reading the Catechism side by side with the Bible (70% of the Catechism’s footnotes are Scripture) transformed me and has made me the man I am today.

I know that my life was never the same after reading the Catechism. And I’m confident, if you start to read it, your life will never be the same as well. It’s a great thing to do during this Year of Faith.

Since I relaunched my site through WordPress a couple months ago, the question people have asked most is, “What happened to the 35 Day Spiritual Workout?” Now, at long last, I can break the silence.

The 35 Day Workout has been transformed into… the 40 Day Spiritual Workout iPhone App!

I am very proud of it. It was designed by FUZATI (who also designed the Steubenville Youth Conference app) and sponsored by Franciscan University.

For those of you who don’t know, I first wrote “The 35 Day Spiritual Workout” in the late 90s as a follow up to the Steubenville Summer Youth Conferences. When I was a teen and attended a Young Life camp, my youth minister recommended a book called, “My First Thirty Quiet Times.” It was a thirty day devotional that got me into the habit of prayer. I thought that kind of devotional would be great for teens that had a powerful experience at a youth conference but didn’t know what to do when they got home.

Since writing it, over ten thousand people have gone through it and have shared how much they were blessed by it. I was able to offer it for free on my website after the original publisher went out of business.

This summer, the Steubenville Youth Conferences began to look into resources they could offer teens after their conference experience. They created a great website, steubenville.org, and an app to go along with it. I proposed that I could update the 35 Day devotional and they could turn it into an app.

There are a lot of great things with the 40 Day Spiritual Workout App. First, because it’s an app it is a lot more interactive. My favorite thing is that a teen can put their youth minister’s email address in it so they can share with them (or their friends on Facebook) their progress in the workout. It looks really cool, too.

But more important than how it looks is the content. I didn’t just add five days, I went over the whole thing based on feedback I’ve gotten over the past few years. I trimmed back some of the verses, removed days that weren’t as strong as the others, and added stories—many of the stories that I posted on the previous blog (such as my story about the pledge card or St. Reuben, the rich young man.) I also was able to incorporate the five forms of prayer that the Catechism talks about, something that was part of the published book but didn’t translate when I first put it on-line.

But enough of me talking, why don’t you check it out? It’s available for free at the App Store.

No iPhone? No problem. You can also click HERE and sign up to get each devotion through email.

I’m hoping this will bless a new generation of teenagers. I’d be grateful if you could spread the word, and giving it a good review on the App Store might encourage a young person to download it and give it a try.

Quick note: I’m the guest on “Franciscan University Presents” and the topic is “Benedict XVI and the New Evangelization.” I haven’t seen it yet but it felt pretty good in the studio when we taped it. For those of you who’d like to see the “professorial” side of me, tune in to EWTN on Tuesday, July 3rd at 1 PM and again Thursday, July 5th at 5 PM.

Just got through a weeklong retreat for priests, deacons, and seminarians and then dove into another amazing conference for high school students. Very busy, but very blessed!

You might think the topics covered at a retreat for priests and a conference for high school students would be pretty different from each other (they usually are.) But this year they shared a common talk: the proof of the existence of God.

My good friend and colleague Dr. John Bergsma talked to the priests, deacons, and seminarians about the importance of fighting the “new atheism” and rejecting the stereotype that to follow Jesus is to be superstitious instead of scientific.

Sean Forrest gave a simpler but similar talk to the teenagers on Saturday night. “How many of you have been told that science has disproved that God exists?” he asked the audience. Almost every hand went up.

“How many of you worry that they’re right?” he asked. Many hands answered yes.

Sean did a great job of walking the teens through some basic apologetics on proving that God exists. He used the famous analogy of finding a watch on the ground and how foolish it would be to think it just “evolved” that way. Clearly something that complex had to be made by someone. And how much more complex are we?

I knew of that argument and I think it’s a great one. But John’s talk to the priests threw out some crazy things I had never heard before.

For example…

Sir Fred Hoyle was a English mathematician who calculated that the chances of a single enzyme to be “randomly” created was one in 1020. That’s a 10 with 20 zeroes after it. He said that the probability of that occurring by chance is as likely as a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a fully functional jumbo jet.

Many astrophysicists and cosmologists agree on what they call the “fine tuning” of the universe: a group of cosmological constants that are so precise that if there was even the smallest change then there would be no possibility of life in the universe. One of those “cosmological constants” is the perfect ratio of protons to electrons. The universe could not exist if there was a 1037 deviation of that balance. According to Dr. Hugh Ross, the best way to visualize it would be the following:

Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles (In comparison, the money to pay for the U.S. federal government debt would cover one square mile less than two feet deep with dimes.) Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 1037.

Now, those are just some of the variables. The chances of each one happening individually are unbelievable… but what are the chances of them all occurring?

One astrophysicist suggested the chances would be 1 in 10229. That number is absolutely impossible to visualize, since there are only an estimated 1 in 1088 electrons (the smallest particle of matter in an atom) in the known universe.

It’s not just mathematically improbable. It’s mathematically impossible.

Many of these scientists were atheists who came to believe in the existence of God through their scientific research.

John said, “If you worked in the field of cosmology, or read in the area of cosmic origins, you know that the real problem is not the fact that the universe looks as if there was no God. It’s the fact that the universe, the more we learn about it, is so finely tuned and highly designed to allow us to live that it’s an embarrassing argument for theism.”

It reminded me of something written in the book of Wisdom:

For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works. (Wisdom 13:1)

It is obvious that we were created by a divine intellect. And it is Christ who revealed fully to us Who that is.

We are not here by chance. We are here by His choice. Not because of luck, but because of His love.

FOR MORE INFO: You can read more about some of the above statistics by going here. John also suggested the documentary “The Privileged Planet” which has some great insights into “intelligent design.” One other book that some of you might like (it’s written at a high academic level) is Fr. Spitzer’s book, “New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

Two weeks ago I played music for the Catholic Charismatic Conference at Franciscan University. The main presenter was Damian Stayne, a great preacher with a powerful healing ministry. He lives outside of London and he’s a Chelsea fan, so that made him okay in my book.

Saturday night he led a healing service. It’s hard to describe in words what I saw. People who were deaf in one ear or the other could hear again. People who had bad knees could kneel for the first time in years. People who came in on crutches were running around the fieldhouse.

I was talking to one of the members of my band afterwards and he asked the question that was probably on many minds that night: “How much of that was real?” How many people had a psychological experience instead of a divine one?

My response: is there a difference?

We live in a world of science that tries to explain away anything that appears miraculous. The beauty of nature is just a result of a big bang. The miracle of life is really just a sperm connecting with an egg and chromosomes fusing together. We’ve limited our definition of “miracle” to “that which defies our scientific understanding.”

But I think that’s a lame definition of what a miracle is.

A miracle is an action of divine intervention. Which means we’re surrounded by miracles every day. Our very lives, our very breath, is a miracle.

I know that biology can explain how the cut on my arm can completely disappear in a week or so, but that doesn’t make it less miraculous. I know that physics can explain how the earth is in orbit around the sun, but that doesn’t make it less amazing. No, I don’t buy into the medieval explanation that clouds move in the sky because the angels push them around, but that doesn’t make them less beautiful, or me less grateful for a sunny day.

Did some of the prayers that night have the effect of a placebo and just trick the mind into healing itself? If so, so what? Does that make God less present? Didn’t He create the mind that way?

Everything is a miracle. But even using the more narrow definition that the world has for things miraculous, there were plenty of those “miracles,” too. How else can you explain the woman with advanced Multiple Sclerosis who can now walk without her cane?

Though many were healed, there were many who weren’t. “Sickness is a result of the sin of the world,” Damian said. “You can look that up in the Catechism. God doesn’t cause people to be sick, but He can use sickness to lead people closer to him.”

So I looked it up in the Catechism and found it at 1505 under the “Anointing of the sick.” It’s not to say that only really sinful people get sick, but that sickness exists because of humanity’s sinful condition. “Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life,” the Catechism says. “Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.” (CCC 1500-1501)

The CCC notes that, even with His many miracles, “Jesus did not cure all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the kingdom of God.” (CCC 1505) Some people take an all or nothing approach to God’s power. If He doesn’t heal everyone then they won’t believe. They will overlook the blessings in their life because of the problems in someone else’s, or they won’t believe the blessings in other people’s lives because of their own problems.

But I think that people who think that way don’t have a divine perspective on life. They don’t realize that every miracle of healing is temporary. Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb. But Lazarus eventually died again.

I know a young woman who was diagnosed with sever Leukemia. We prayed like crazy that she’d be healed. Know what? She went to the doctors and they couldn’t find a sign of the cancer. We rejoiced at her healing! But almost a year later, she wasn’t feeling well and visited her doctor. The cancer was back with a vengeance. She died within two weeks.

Did God heal her? Yes. Temporarily. Every healing is temporary. We have this idea in our heads that we’re all supposed to live until we’re 90 and than anything less of that is a cruel injustice that deprives us of our “right” to live. But that’s not reality.

God is more interested in eternity. He provides healings, not to prolong this life, but to grant us deeper faith for the next one. I guarantee you that nobody in heaven brags about how long they got to spend on earth.

In light of the miracalous healings (are there any other kind?) I experienced that Saturday night, Damian’s explanation of why sometimes healings don’t happen carried a lot more weight. He wasn’t giving an excuse on why nothing happened; he tried to delve into the mystery of why some things didn’t happen. He shared how his own wife has benign tumors in her brain that causes minor bouts of epilepsy. He’s prayed for her everyday, but the tumors remain.

Though God does not cause sickness, Damian suggested that we can use our sicknesses to glorify God and “poke the devil’s eye with a stick” by using it against him. The devil would like to use sickness and sin to pull us away from God. But God bore our infirmities upon the cross so that, through His suffering, we could be drawn to Him. And our sufferings are an opportunity to “make up what is lacking in the body of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24)

Miracles are all around us. God does amazing things in this life to give us hope for the next. He answers our prayers: sometimes with a “yes” and sometimes with a “no”, but always for our own benefit. We can become obsessed with feeling good in this life; Jesus is obsessed with us experiencing eternal joy in the next. Let us pray fervently, accept humbly, suffer faithfully, rejoice gratefully, and hope expectantly, so that we can live eternally with the One who loves endlessly.