I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I wonder what Bob thinks about the readings for this Sunday’s liturgy?”

Have no fear… Any Given Sunday is here.

Any Given Sunday is a project started by my friend, Bob Perron, who is the director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (in West Virginia.) Every week, he features an inspirational writer/speaker who reflects on the upcoming Sunday readings. And this week he asked me to do it.

So I did! You can check it out here and I’d encourage you to bookmark the page as every week it provides great insight on the readings for the Sunday Mass.

These past few days, I was blessed to be a part of the Catholic Youth Ministry Training Convention, sponsored by Life Teen. The theme of the conference was “Radiant Joy.”

What surprised me about my experience at the conference was that it was so… restful. It shouldn’t have been. I flew to Arizona right after finishing a weekend conference (which was preceded by a week of intensive sound-checks and practices to prepare for it) for a quick two day trip. I had to give two workshops (both at 7 AM each day) and an afternoon keynote. Since it was being videotaped, I had to put extra time in my powerpoint presentation—something that took numerous hours of work. All told, it had all the makings of a hectic weekend.

But it wasn’t. It was anything but. It was wonderful, restful, and joyful.

Much of that was due to the conference itself. The folks at Life Teen are the most hospitable, professional, and altogether excellent folk a person could hope to work with. The liturgies were beautiful, the prayer was intense, and the speakers were inspiring.

One of my favorite talks was given by a friend I hadn’t seen in years, Tom Wilson. He gave a talk about how to guard your joy, or more specifically, to unguard it. He encouraged us to share our joy with the world and not hide it under a bushel. He talked about the importance of a sense of humor when approaching life and how humor is a sign of a healthy spirituality. It reminded me of a quote from St. Teresa of Avila: “Take God very seriously, but don’t take yourself very seriously at all.”

Tom also clarified that having a sense of humor is not about being funny. Funny people tell jokes and have a quick wit. But people with a sense of humor have a balanced perspective on life. To have a sense of humor you have to be humble. He quoted C.S. Lewis: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”

There is often a stereotype that to be more holy you have to be more solemn. But that is not the example of the saints. Those who seek and find holiness are radiant with the joy that only God can give.

Then Mark Hart followed by inviting us to pray for deeper joy in our lives. He gave two great quotes from two great saints. “The only reason to take this life seriously is if it’s the only life you have,” said St. Francis. And Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Joy is the net by which we catch souls,” “starting with our own,” Mark added.

Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) Happiness is often based on happenings, meaning that it depends on if things are going well. But joy is a state of being that isn’t hampered by the negativity around us. Tom shared a personal story about his wife who, coming out of her fifth surgery in her struggle with breast cancer, was still able to make jokes. Where did that humor come from? Her love of the Lord.

My gratitude to everyone at Life Teen for letting me be a part of that experience. And I was so blessed by the participants at my workshops and the people I got to connect with between sessions. May we all continue to radiate the joy of Jesus Christ.

The behind the scenes video of “Zombies Vs Jesus” (to be released sometime in June) was just posted. It amazes me how much work goes into a three minute film! What I also love about this video is seeing people who are passionate, not just about making a cool film, but doing ministry that will impact people’s lives. It’s worth the three minutes to watch it… even if you don’t like zombies.

I assume that most of you have seen The Avengers since it’s broken about every box office record it could. Personally, I thought it was the perfect comic book movie: a great blend of humor, action, and epic story telling.

I remember sitting next to someone at a movie theater a few months ago when an Avengers trailer came on. This person turned to her friend and said, “It looks just like the Transformers.” The tone of her voice made it clear that it wasn’t a compliment.

I wanted to turn to her and say, “This movie is nothing like Transformers!” But then tried to see the trailer through her eyes: Lots of explosions, big city buildings getting knocked down, and huge creatures fighting each other. Yep, that’s Transformers alright.

I didn’t like Transformers, either. So why was I excited about this movie and she wasn’t? The answer was simple. I wasn’t going to see the movie because I wanted to see New York City destroyed. I wanted to see what was going to happen to the characters.

WIth a big budget and a good special effects team, any studio can make movies where things blow up. But the novelty of disaster films has worn off. How many times have we seen Grand Central station destroyed? Yes, the final battle of The Avengers is pretty spectacular from a visual point of view. But that’s not what makes it exciting.

What makes it exciting is that Bruce Banner finally finds a way to control the Hulk. The Black Widow has a chance to do something good to make up for her past. Iron Man learns what it means to sacrifice for the sake of the team. We don’t just root for the bad guys to get destroyed, we cheer for the heroes who have discovered something in themselves and have made the right choice. To put it simpler, we get excited about what they do because we know who they are.

This is a great lesson, not just for any story teller, but for anyone who wants to pass on the faith. Msgr. Eugine Kevane once wrote that “catechesis is about being acquaintanced with persons.” The most effective way to catechize is not by teaching topics but by talking about people.

The person we should talk most about is, of course, Jesus Christ. And our faith is filled with amazing stories of men and women who have conquered their own personal demons to do something great for God. Isn’t that the same kind of drama we saw in The Avengers?

In passing on the faith, don’t just talk about the what. Talk about the who. I imagine that every Christian knows what Jesus did on the cross. But do they really know who He is?

That was one of my few critiques with the movie, The Passion of the Christ. It was a lot of what but only a little who. As a result, many Christians who knew Jesus had a powerful experience watching the film, but people who didn’t know Christ thought (to use the words of a non-Christian I know who saw the film,) “it was just a movie where a guy got the crap beat out of him.”

The Gospel has been rightly called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” A great story has great characters: the incredible love of Jesus Christ, the struggle Peter has to know what it means to follow Him, the betrayal of Judas, the sorrow of His mother. The main reason I wrote my novel, Between the Savior and the Sea, was to try to make that drama come more alive in a contemporary literary genre. Because as I travel around the country (yea, the world) sharing Gospel stories, that’s what people respond most to.

I imagine that many people look at Catholicism the way the woman next to me watched the Avengers trailer: a montage of images and people that didn’t make any sense unless you already knew the characters. It’s up to those of us who pass on the faith (which, by the way, is all of us) not just to talk about what we believe, but Who we believe, and how we’ve been inspired by the stories of others who have done super-heroic things through the grace of the One they believed in.

Here’s a script I wrote about the Apostle’s Creed. Corey at Likeable Art did all the hard work and I think it came out really well. Great job, Corey!

What’s also cool is that it’s available in Spanish. I imagine that someday, after the zombie apocalypse destroys life on earth, aliens will come visit our ravaged planet and be able to use both of these videos as a kind of Rosetta Stone to learn one or the other language. Yes, it’s that big of a deal.

What do you think?