These past few weeks… it is hard to describe the emotions I’ve felt. If someone asked me how I feel, I’d probably say, everything. I’ve felt joy and pain, anger and peace, questions and comfort.

My dad was a wonderful man, one of my best friends. I really can’t say more about him right now without crying, but you can read his obituary HERE if you’d like. A few weeks ago we were sharing a drink in the Bahamas, celebrating he and mom’s 50th anniversary, and talking about the important things in life: family, music, work, and how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to win the Super Bowl this year. We say this every year, and one year we were right! Less than two weeks later he passed away. (As a side note, we buried him in his favorite Buccaneers hat… though that was also to cover the scar from the brain surgery.)

I think he went in the way he wanted to go. He didn’t like nursing homes or hospitals. In many ways, his quick passing was a mercy. And the fact that only a few days before he entered the hospital he was surrounded by his kids and grandkids with a video message from all of his friends… you couldn’t plan that kind of thing any better. His final days of life he got to spend time with mom, my sister, and myself.

The last words I said to him were, “I love you.” His last words to me: “I love you, too.” I am so grateful to have had the kind of relationship with him that nothing more needed to be said. We said it all in our life.

As I shared my grief among friends and social media, I’ve received hundreds of tweets, texts, posts, emails, and phone calls, all of whom sharing their sympathy and their prayers. At the funeral, hundreds more showed up to honor the life of a wonderful man and support the family who loved him. I’m sure there were over five-hundred people praying for his soul, my family, and myself over these past couple weeks, and I can tell you that I have felt like I’ve been held aloft by a thousand hands raised in prayer. I certainly could not have walked this journey alone, and I am grateful that I did not have to.

I cannot remember the last time in my life that I have felt such pain and peace at the same time. I and my family sincerely want to thank all of you who accompanied us on this journey, whether it be through praying a rosary, offering up a Mass, sending a message, or just taking a moment to close your eyes and hope that we would get through this. Every small and great thing you did to help us really mattered and did not go unnoticed, even if we’ve not yet had the chance to respond to everyone who reached out to us in this difficult time.

I’m writing this on a plane, heading home. Tomorrow I’m setting up music in the Fieldhouse at Franciscan University to get ready for the first Steubenville Summer Conference this weekend. My dad loved playing music and in one of our last conversations said that he thanked God every day for the gift of playing music, especially at Mass. Now he will be doing this forever in heaven. I look forward to playing with him again someday, in the throne room of the King, where there is no more sickness, no more crying, no more death. I think I’ll need a few more years (and decades) of practice before I land that gig, but until then I’m excited to sing His praises while I have breath in my lungs.

So far I’ve played guitar on an elliptical, played accordion on a treadmill, wore a tux while running, and almost hurt myself so badly I would have had to cancel the race. But the big finish is this weekend where I run 13.1 miles to raise money for Dirty Vagabond Ministries! If you can help support this worthy cause, click HERE. Thanks!

I am trying to raise $10K in 10 days, looking for 100 people to give 100 dollars to Dirty Vagabond Ministries, a group of amazing people who are dedicated to transforming cities one kid at a time. To donate, go to https://www.crowdrise.com/dirtyvagabondpitt2018/fundraiser/therealbobrice

Or, you can text “pghmarathon” to 41444. It is that easy!

Dirty Vagabond is more than a charity that helps poor people. We are passionate about evangelization. We believe that transformation happens through hearts be changed.

Dirty Vagabond Ministries aims at raising up saints in a grassroots effort and incarnational model of ministry. Our ministry in Dirty Vagabond Ministries, happens in conversation, relationship, and recreation, as opposed to formal youth group functions.

Though our goal is the same as any Catholic youth ministry program – raising saints, rooted in the sacramental life of the Church – our approach is different.The Dirty Vagabond youth workers live as missionaries, volunteering 3 to 5 years of their lives to be Christ among the people.

Please help!

I love Star Wars. From the first time seeing “A long time ago” appear in blue letters on the movie screen, I was hooked. As a kid, I collected almost every action figure and play set that Kenner toys ever made. It captivated my imagination, and I likely spent more of my childhood, at least mentally, in the world of Star Wars than I did in the real one. I remember hours spent in my bedroom, playing with my action figures. Or I’d be outside looking up at the stars, imagining what it would be like to travel in space, dreaming of someday being a Jedi.
When I was 10 or 11, my Aunt visited. She was a Carmelite Hermit, and obviously didn’t get out much, so a visit from her was a big occasion. She wanted to spend the afternoon with me and asked what I wanted to do. The answer was obvious: see The Empire Strikes Back for what must have been the 8th time. I’ll never forget the dinner we had afterwords, when she explained what it meant to be a follower of Jesus using the imagery from the movie. It changed my life. Now I no longer wanted to be a Jedi. I wanted to be a Christian Jedi.
To be honest, I still do.
I’m not naive. It isn’t a Christian movie. Actually, one of the great things my Aunt Rosie explained was not only what was good about the movie, but also what wasn’t in line with being Catholic. Even with its flaws, it is a spiritual movie, and let’s be honest: you don’t get that very often, especially in science-fiction. Now that I’m older, I appreciate it when movies touch on spiritual themes instead of acting like they don’t matter.
I love Star Wars, but I hated the prequels. “Hate” is a strong word, and I use it intentionally. Not that there weren’t good parts to them, because there were. But it changed the rules.
In The Phantom Menace, we were introduced to the idea of midichlorians—tiny symbiotic life forms that live within the blood. It was explained that this was how you knew if you could be a Jedi or not. Young Anakin had the highest amount of midichlorians ever seen, “even higher than Master Yoda!” a young Obi-Wan exclaimed.
So… if you want to be a Jedi you have to pass a blood test? Is this what determines whether you end up working in the Jedi Temple library or are on the Grand Council? Your ability to use the Force was genetically predetermined and there was nothing you could do about it? I remember sitting in the movie theater as this was unveiled on screen. It felt like a punch to the gut. I know I’m sounding like “it ruined my childhood”… but to be honest, it kind of did.
The other movies of the prequels continued in a downward spiral of blurring the lines between good and evil, Jedi and Sith. At the end, the Jedi were as much to blame as anyone else. From the original trilogy, I had thought the Jedis were the “guardians of truth and justice in the universe”, as Obi-Wan had explained to Luke Skywalker in A New Hope. After those movies, I guess not.
When The Force Awakens came out, I braced myself, expecting to hear once again about the midichlorians… but it never happened. It felt a lot like A New Hope, so much so that its biggest critique was that it was too repetitive. But for those of us who suffered through the prequels, the repitition was welcome. The movie left us with some unanswered questions, particularly about Rey’s parents. I mean, if she was that strong in the Force, it has to be because of her bloodline, right? Obi-Wan must have shacked up with somebody somewhere—who else had that kind of midichlorian count in their blood?
The Last Jedi began with a heart-breaking image: a Luke Skywalker that had lost his faith. It wasn’t just that Kylo Ren turned to the dark side. He also learned about the history of the Jedi and realized it wasn’t what he thought it was. In a sense, he had watched the prequels. So he was convinced that the world didn’t need Jedi, that the Jedi were a part of the problem, and the best thing to do is to shut himself off from the force and kill the order.
And Rey, hearing him say this, says adamantly, “YOU’RE WRONG!”
Later in the movie came the big reveal. Rey’s parents were… nobodies. Junk traders. She had no “special liniage” to speak off. The implications of this were staggering: you can be strong in the Force, and it doesn’t matter who your parents are. It just matters who you are.
In the end, Luke is back to the Jedi he was always meant to be, and it is clear the Jedi order will rise again. The final scene was, for me, the most poignant. Three slave kids, playing with what were essentially Star Wars figures, get kicked out by their overbearing master. One of them walks to the hanger and reaches out for his broom… and it comes to him by the power of the Force. Then he looks to the stars. He dreams of going to space one day. Dreams of being a Jedi. And perhaps he will.
That kid was me. My faith in Star Wars was restored.
Disclaimer: Never lost my faith in Jesus 🙂 

I’m always grateful to be a part of the #sharejesus video series, produced by Redeemed Online. I’m also really glad that after I did the video they took a nice picture of me (which you can see on this site), since I’ve yet to get any professional pictures of me sans beard.  I would have done the video for free, but the picture was a nice plus.

If you are blessed by this, check out some of their other amazing videos at http://redeemedonline.com.

“Hey, where’s the beard?” I’ve been getting that question a lot lately as I show up at different events. It is usually followed by, “Why aren’t you wearing a bow tie?” Fear not, citizens. The bow tie is alive and well. I wear it when I teach and on Sundays. The beard, however, is gone.

Technically, it is still there, always growing underneath my pale Irish skin, pushing forward like Play-Doh slowly squeezed through a sieve. To understand the reason it is gone, one must understand the reason it began.

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It was 2004 and I had just left youth ministry and began teaching at Franciscan University. It was an incredibly intimidating job, especially since many of my former teachers were now my professional colleagues! I was only 32 so I was one of the youngest members of the faculty at the time.

I walked into THE FACULTY LOUNGE—a secret place forbidden to students but now I could have access to. Actually, it took me about two months to raise my courage to walk in there. When I did, there was a grumpy professor (who shall remain nameless) who, without really looking at me, loudly put his book down on the table and said, “Students are not allowed in the faculty lounge.” So I said I was sorry and I left.

And that’s when I decided to grow the beard. I needed to look older, and fast, or I knew I’d keep getting mistaken for a student. So in the course of a month I went from this:

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To this:

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Those pictures were with my daughter Elliana, who is now 12! Amazing how time flies.

My mission was accomplished: I looked older. Over time, the beard added shades of grey, giving me a more distinguished look.

However, the last few years, I have felt betrayed by the beard. It went from “pepper” to “completely white”. I would tell people I was in my forties, and they’d say, “Wow! I thought you were older than that.” I’ve noticed that more people have been inquiring if any of the college musicians I play with were my children. This is me at an event in Fort Worth, TX… one of the last known pictures of the beard:

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I confess I thought about coloring it darker. I even bought a Just For Men hair dye kit. But the instructions were way too complicated, and I didn’t want to head down that slippery slope. So I lathered up and took it off. And now I look younger.

THE END

PHOTO: Fr. Chris Martin, Me, Megan Mastroianni, and Paul J. Kim 

In June I was doing music for a Steubenville Youth Conference that Paul J. Kim spoke at. If you haven’t heard of him, you should check out his website HERE. He’s an incredibly talented young man who is on fire for God and has a great message for young people. During his keynote, he talked about going to a Steubenville conference as a teenager and how the host of that conference said something that changed his life. It was a powerful story.

The next day, as we were all sitting together at lunch, he looked at me and said, “Hey, I think that was you!” Sure enough, it was. Then two other people on the speaking team that weekend, Megan Mastroianni and Fr. Chris Martin, both shared how I had also been at Steubenville conferences they were at when they were younger (2002 and 1996).

This became a theme throughout the summer. Katie Hartfiel shared a picture when she was a “fan girl” of mine in high school. Oscar Rivera told a story from the stage about how he had a conversion in 1995 (and still remembered the horse I rode in on). Kris Frank, hosting a conference for the first time, mentioned that I was the host at the conference he had a powerful conversation at.

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PHOTO: Me and Katie Hartfiel, 2001

I did the math and realized that last weekend was my 75th youth conference in 23 years. That number is a bit ridiculous. If you average about two thousand young people at each conference, that means the Steubenville conferences have given me the opportunity to share my gifts of speaking, music, and comedy in front of about 150,000 young people. There’s only one word that comes to mind as I let that sink in:

Grateful.

My first conference was in the summer of 1994. I was just out of college (Theater major from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL). I had met Jim Beckman (who was the host of that conference) a few months before at the first Catholic Heart Work Camp in Orlando (fun fact: I was the first Carpenter Commando). It was his idea to bring me to Steubenville, a place I had never heard of. At the time he said the weekend could use my gift of comedy (I was working at an improvisational comedy club at the time) to inject some fun into the weekend. But later he shared that he knew in his heart that I needed to experience the kind of Catholic ministry that Steubenville was offering. He was absolutely right.

So from the beginning there was a mutual blessing: the conferences blessed me by being a part of them, and I blessed the conferences by using my gifts in the weekend. It began with comedy but soon grew to songwriting (writing many of the theme songs of the 90s), speaking, hosting, and leading worship. In fact, over these past 23 years I’ve done everything you could do at a conference short of concentrating the Eucharist (yes, I’ve even spoken at a women’s session).

In 2005 I was asked to provide music for not just the youth but also the adult conferences as well. Since we’re counting, last weekend was my 67th young adult or adult conference. The fact that I’ve done over 140 Steubenville summer conferences really blows my mind. I still find them energizing, life giving, and powerful moments of God’s grace.

I am continually humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve at the Steubenville Summer Conferences. I’m always excited when someone says, “I remember you from 1997!” Even if I didn’t say or do anything particularly profound that changed that person’s life back then, it is cool that God let me be a part of the team of people that blessed him or her.

This year the Steubenville summer conferences celebrated its 40th year. What an honor to have participated in 23 of those! While I don’t want to minimize the wonderful things God has done through me over these past decades at those conferences, I also realize that I have been more blessed by having the conferences in my life than vice versa. I could have said no to Jim’s invitation back in 1993, deciding instead to keep doing comedy and music in Orlando, and the conferences would have continued to grow and bless hundreds and thousands of teens. It would have been my loss!

Last weekend, just as I do at the end of every summer, I put my guitar down after the closing song of Mass and said a prayer of gratitude. There’s no sign of me stopping right now, but I also know I’m not the master of my own fate. I can’t believe it has gone on this long, so who knows?

All I know is that I’m so thankful for being a part of the ministry of the Steubenville summer conferences. I can’t imagine my life without them.

 

Bob and Sunny

PHOTO: Me and Clayton Farris, who plays “Sonny”, on the “Ask J” set. 

There was a time when adolescence was considered to be a moment of asking the Great Questions in life: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why is there suffering in the world? In previous generations they’d ask family members, a teacher, or a friend for the answer. But today, they ask Google.

The challenge with the Internet is that you can find any answer you want to any question you ask. Many people don’t realize that “information” is not the same as “wisdom”. Deluged by a variety of opinions, blogs, and posts, it is easy to see why this generation is so relativistic—how can there possibly be a right answer when there are so many possibilities?

At Franciscan University, we wanted to create a web series that, we hope, would make a young person realize that perhaps Google doesn’t have the answers to the “big” questions we ask. And that’s where we came up with the idea for “Ask J”.

“Ask J” is a five part video series that follows J, a new employee at the Internet, as he tries to answer questions like “Why is there suffering in the world?” and “YOLO, right?” The hope is that it could be used as a discussion starter in youth or young adult settings, or something that could be shared on the Internet with a friend to start up a discussion about the bigger things in life. I got to serve as the executive producer of this project and it was a real blessing to be involved in such a high-quality production.

When Jesus taught, sometimes He explained things directly; other times He used parables. I think a lot of Catholic media does the former but misses the latter. I can see why: it is cheaper and easier to film a talking head explaining this or that Church doctrine. It takes a lot more work and expense to tell a story. Yet young people respond far better to narratives than lectures, and so we tried to create a funny story with engaging characters that might draw the viewer into thinking about deeper issues.

The more these are watched and shared, the more likely we will get to keep doing projects like this at Franciscan. So please, link to these via your social media and share them with friends. We have a lot of other great ideas we’d like to bring to life!