On Autism and Being a Priest: An Exclusive Interview with Fr. Matthew Schneider


Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted via email communication in August 2019. Some of the answers provided by the interviewee were edited to provide clarity for the reader. The integrity of Fr. Matthew Schneider’s answers was not compromised in the editing process.


Fr. Matthew Schneider

What challenges do you face as a priest with autism?

My religious community tends to take on other ministries more often. I was the chaplain and on the formation team at a K-12 school for the 2013-2014 school year. I recognized I had not had a perfect year, but I figured everything was within the learning curve of being new to a certain type of ministry. However, the school administration thought otherwise. They asked that another priest from the community take over after a year of what was supposed to be a 3 or 6 year assignment.

The administration also suggested I might have Asperger’s. I felt devastated but it hindsight this is a blessing as it lead to a diagnosis about 16 months later in January 2016. After that, I was transferred to working more behind the scenes on a few projects for my religious community – preparing a course, local administration, and the national communications – while studying grad theology part time and helping out with the sacraments at our retreat center and a few parishes.

How did the parishioners react when found out you were diagnosed with autism?

The regulars at the retreat center knew me kind of like a parish and they responded quite well. They didn’t really ask too many questions and just accepted the diagnosis when I explained it to them.

Given my situation, one family at the retreat center approached me as they have several autistic children. However, the mother of that family has already managed to get most things in order for her family at Mass, etc. so I probably learned as much from her as I helped her.

What challenges did you face after your ASD diagnosis?

As far as challenges, I definitely have some. I realize that I am not great at reading people. This has a lot of side effects regarding how I approach a lot of things. Right now, I am earning my doctorate in hopes be of service to the Church as a writer or teacher.

I’m more insistent on a confessional screen as I have trouble reading faces which people often expect in face-to-face confession. Also a few times, I’ve struggled with hearing confessions with talking going on in the background like at parishes missions or big events. Usually this issue was resolved by moving somewhere the preacher was not so loud.

How ASD ever affected your approach to the Liturgy?

As far as liturgy, I don’t think it has affected it too much.  A “normal” Mass doesn’t set off any sensory difficulties for me. I do tend to prefer a more structured liturgy as opposed to a free-form or charismatic type. I tend to say the black and do the red while tending to simplicity in songs.


Fr. Matthew wants to help you experience Jesus and become his apostle.
He is a priest with the Legionaries of Christ ordained in 2013, and lives in the Philadelphia metro area where he studies at theology doctorate and helps out with a few ministries. Fr. Matthew is also one of the top priests on social media with over 75,000 followers and writes a blog on Patheos. Originally from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Fr. Matthew has worked throughout North America.

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10 Reasons Why Catholics Should Always be Thankful

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 26, 2017.


G.K. Chesterton stated in Christmas and Salesmanship, “Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.” As a father I know all too well how difficult it is sometimes for my children to express gratitude to me. On the other hand, as a husband I struggle to tell my wife how thankful for all that she does. Not only do I need to improve on my attitude of gratitude within my marriage,  I need to focus on having a thankful mindset in my spiritual life and relationship with God. In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I came on my top ten reasons for why I am thankful for Catholicism!

eucharist 2

Eucharist

The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 has Jesus preaching the most profound truth in the history of the universe. Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Catechism of the Catechism Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Every Sunday I experience the miracle of being able to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ!

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Holy Trinity

God is love. Love entails relationship. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the Mystery that God is a Communion of Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the revelation of this truth. I am able to ponder the depth of its truth without it growing stale, it always remains fresh and profound!

Incarnation

The most solemn moment of the Nicene Creed occurs when we profess: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” At this point, we bow to recognize the amazing fact that God became a mere human. St. Athanasius had this to say about the Incarnation, “God became man that man might become God” (On the Incarnation). I am thankful that God sent his only Son-Jesus Christ—to become a bridge for humanity to access God.

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Confession

I have experienced real, tangible, and concrete healing when I receive God’s healing grace’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through frequent reception of Penance, I have been able to overcome sins that dominated me in my youth. I have also been able to recognize sins that hid in the background previously. As a result, Confession provides me with graces to root out sinful tendencies and to grow in holiness.

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Divine Mercy

While I experience Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, I want to treat this topic as a separate point. I used to view God as a wrathful Judge. My scrupulosity leads to a judgmental mentality—that I struggle with still today. However, through the intercession of the Divine Mercy saints of the 20th century such as St. Maria Faustina, John Paul II, Maximilian Koble, and Mother Teresa my awareness that God is a Merciful and Just Judge has increased!

 Mary

My relationship with our Blessed Mother has improved over this past year. In celebration of the centenary anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima, my wife and I consecrated ourselves to Jesus through St. Louis de Montfort stated, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus” (True Devotion to Mary). I learned that Mary is the greatest witness and advocate for God. Her desire is to lead ll her children to Jesus Christ.

 Saints

Along with Mary, the saints in Heaven provide a model for me to follow to help me grow in holiness. Reading about the lives of my favorite saints [St. Athanasius, John Paul II, St. Amelia, St. Bernadette, St. Pius IX, St. Maria Faustina, and St. Maximilian Koble—to name a few] helps provide concrete examples of what holiness looks like and how I am able to emulate their trust in God in my own life.

 Hope

I am thankful for the hope that the Catholic Church teaches and provides me daily. Attending Sunday Mass, going to Eucharistic Adoration, meeting with my monthly Catholic men’s group, and teaching Religious Education at my parish are ways that I receive [and pass on] hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1843, “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.”

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Sacred Tradition

I am a history buff. In fact, I earned my undergraduate degree in history. The Catholic Church is a storehouse and guardian of 2,000+ years of history and tradition. While lesser important traditions pass away and give way to more appropriate devotional practices that fits the needs of the faithful, Jesus Christ knew that stability and consistency of truth is essential in mankind’s relationship with God.

The Catechism tells us in paragraph number 96-97,

What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God’ (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.

I am thankful that Jesus instituted the priesthood and office of the papacy to have truth passed on through the ages.

Beauty

The final fact about Catholicism in my top ten list that I am grateful for is the beauty I experience. Catholic cathedrals and basilicas are places where I have experienced beauty in an ineffable way. During the celebration of the Liturgy, I experience the beauty of God in both song and sight. The icons in my local church allow my prayers to be better united to God. I am pointed toward higher realities when I meditate with the aid of sacred song and holy images.

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Lord, we thank you
for the goodness of our people
and for the spirit of justice
that fills this nation.
We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the
land and the challenge of the cities.

We thank you for our work and our rest,
for one another, and for our homes.
We thank you, Lord:
accept our thanksgiving on this day.
We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.

R: Amen.

Related Links

Catholics, Be Thankful Always and Everywhere

Why I’m Thankful To Be Catholic

Announcing 10 Catholic Role Models to be Thankful for!

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The Risks of Following Christ in 2020

By: J.M. Kraemer

Recently, the news featured stories  about attacks and vandalism at Catholic parishes around the world. This is not really unexpected given the current state of the world. However, we should look at this though the lens of history and realize that this kind of stuff isn’t new. It was not different in the days of Christ and it is no different now.

Our Enemy Hates the Church

The evil one does not like God or what the church itself stands for. Thus, he will use any means he can to destroy us. Even in the Gospels Christ warns us several times that following Him carries risk. Not all will be accepting of the truth He has given us.
Seeing places of worship ransacked always brings sorrow. The Catholic Church stands for something profound. It represents a bridge from the present to Christ’s teaching (2000 years ago). These lessons and wisdom passed down though the generations in the lives of the Saints. Not all accept this truth. They will hate and fear what they don’t understand. If they did not then we would not have anyone who would be considered martyrs.

The Church is Beyond a Building

We must remember that we are more than the buildings and the statues. If the suspension of public Mass during a pandemic has taught us anything is that our faith has to be deeper than the foundations of the buildings. Statues can be vandalized and toppled. Churches can be set on fire and destroyed. They are a focal point for the faith. But they are not the faith itself.

Our faith lies in the path that Christ has given us in this life. Doesn’t matter what happens around us so long as we hold true to the Catholic faith and not make compromises because the world demands us to. We have a commitment to Christ that goes past the world. When we commit to walking with Christ we live in hope.

Follow Jesus

Nothing should stop us from living the Gospel. No matter what evil the world will throw our way. Much like the days of the Apostles we must be willing to face the hatred!  According to Matthew 5:11, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.” True words to live by in an age where the faith is under more attacks than ever before.


About our guest blogger

JM Kraemer is a Catholic artist out of Saginaw, MI who uses LEGO as creative way to evangelize. He writes on issues related to the Catholic Faith and disability awareness. Visit his Facebook page Lego Church Project to read more content to help you build your faith (and enjoy amazing Lego constructions).

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When We Reject God Everything Falls Apart

By: J.M. Kraemer

In this current age it seem that we have a deep desire to have a dislike for God. We see this every day the more we seek to remove Him from the public square. As a result things will get progressively worse with the state of the world.

As a society we have really become spiritually bankrupt. With recent events we are starting to receive the rewards of that bankruptcy. When God is no longer the focus of our lives. The evil one seeks to fill that void we have willingly allowed to be created. We push God out of the way, and by that same understanding, turn our back to Him.


It creates a path for the evil one to take advantage of the situation. This is because the world is no longer afraid of the punishment of hell. No longer understanding what it means. No longer afraid of sin that takes us down that dangerous path. Nor is the world afraid of the final judgment of our souls that awaits us. To even think about these things becomes for us an uncomfortable truth.

The majority of people right now don’t accept or believe that there is a spiritual war going on. We have lost sight of what is truly important. Replacing it by embracing the sins of the world. Instead of embracing Jesus Christ our Savior.


As followers of Christ we must remain strong and not give into supporting this sins of evil. For the reward for such actions is by no means pleasant. The gate to Heaven as always been a narrow path. While the road to hell is as wide as the rivers. It has always been our choice on which path we take. Taking the time to think about that fact should scare you more than anything else going on in the world right now.

About our guest blogger

JM Kraemer is a Catholic artist out of Saginaw, MI who uses LEGO as creative way to evangelize. He writes on issues related to the Catholic Faith and disability awareness. Visit his Facebook page Lego Church Project to read more content to help you build your faith (and enjoy amazing Lego constructions).

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How Tetherball is Like the Catholic Church

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 1, 2015.


I will begin today’s post by comparing the structure of the Catholic Church to a somewhat “elementary” thing. Let me give you some word clues. Hopscotch. Foursquare. Kickball. Red Rover. Before I confuse you anymore please let me briefly explain the context to why I am talking about children’s playground games and religion in the same paragraph.

During this past year I worked at a Catholic high school and taught Old and New Testament. On the day we discussed the epic first century saints Peter and Paul, I gave my students a simple analogy. A healthy Catholic Church is likened to a game of tetherball. To better help you understand what I mean precisely with that example please let us first discuss why Peter and Paul are important to Christianity.

Stability of the Rock

Matthew 16:16-19 has Peter clearly stating the identity of Jesus Christ and thereafter he is entrusted with the “keys to the kingdom of Heaven”. Catholics interpret this passage as hard and fast proof for the papacy. To cite Fr. Robert Barron in his book Catholicism [referring to Peter’s special insight], “And this knowledge did not come from Peter’s native intelligence or from an extraordinary education…It came as a gift from God, a special charism of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 121). Thus, God chose a pope from the very beginning to be that stability upon we, as Catholics, can rely on. If the Church had multiple heads its teachings would devolve into something ugly–like the multi-head monster in Greek myth– the hydra. In a similar way, the center-post in a tetherball game provides stability for the game to happen.

Creativity of a Theologian

creativity

Now let’s turn our attention to St. Paul. While the popes enjoy the office of St. Peter and provide stability to the Catholic Church, having this Petrine element alone would make Her teachings dry and rocky. Thus, to balance out the papacy there is a need for theology to make the Church healthy.

 After Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 until the end of the book, the saint is literally always on the move. As I told my students, “Paul does not have biblical ADD, but rather he was the spark of life that started the early Christian churches”. Citing from Fr. Barron again, “Paul stands for mission, the engagement of the culture and proclamation. Every missionary, teacher, preacher, and theologian, is, in this sense, a son or daughter of Paul.” (p. 141). Paul represents an archetype within the Catholic Church to adapt to different times and cultures. He represents the spunk that enlivens the Church. Going back to the tetherball analogy the rope and ball provide the excitement for the playground game.

always on the move

Structure + Flexibility= Healthy Church

A healthy Church needs both structure (papacy) and flexibility (theology). So too does a tetherball game needs the center-post= [representing the papacy/Petrine element] and the rope and ball= [representing theology/Pauline element]. 
 
The schoolyard game would be pointless if a center-post did not exist to keep the ball close for the players to bat around. At the same time a game consisting of only a metal pole would be stagnant and boring. Similarly, the Catholic Church without the dynamic element St. Paul brought in the first century and whose memory represents today.
tetherball

Which playground game is God’s favorite? I would imagine that God has all the time in the world to try them all and find them equally enjoyable, but if I had to venture a guess I would pick tetherball! 🙂

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Why Celebrating the Mass is Like Returning Home in 2020

The death of Kobe Bryant ushered in the new year. It shocked the world. Suddenly the coronarovirus circled the globed. Lockdowns and quarantines ensued. Our lives have been upended. You may have joked about this year being the beginning of an apocalypse— honestly, it feels Pandora’s box of evil was opened and there is no end in sight.

time traveler 2020 meme

Recreational outlets for stress such as sporting events, music concerts, and festivals have either been cancelled for postponed indefinitely.  Local libraries, zoo, and museums closed. How the heck are you supposed to live? I contracted COVID19 in April and those were among the most miserable weeks for my family. And if that wasn’t bad enough the Church suspended public Masses.

I understand why the bishops temporarily removed the Sunday obligation. Viewing the Mass via the Internet was a gift. It was a grace to hear my diocese’s newly ordained bishop preach (my family ordinarily don’t attend the Cathedral for Mass so we wouldn’t have heard Bishop DeGrood otherwise).

In May several dioceses across the United States started allowing public liturgies with safety precautions. I was recently graced with the ability to receive the Blessed Sacrament for the first time in months. It felt like a homecoming.

Home is Where the Sacred Heart is

Saint Augustine wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. ” This year was a journey in the wilderness (I mean that literally and figuratively). Lent ended on April 11th however my spiritual dryness and suffering continued well into the Easter Season. Streaming the Mass on TV felt like viewing an oasis far off in a desert. Some weeks it appeared real and other times as a mirage.

sacred heart of Jesus is our home

The tangibility of going to Mass physically reminds me of the Incarnation—  God becoming man. Without that direct connection of hearing and seeing the priest in person it remained a great Cross to bear.

Saint Pope Pius X said, “Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven.” This life is not our true home. It is a pilgrimage toward our destination.

Home is about love. The truest form of love is found in the heart of Jesus.

Community of Love

Another term for the Blessed Sacrament is Holy Communion. I love this name for the Eucharist. Under the section What is this Sacrament Called?  the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1331,  (It is called)  “Holy Communion, because by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body.” Love can only happen in the presence of another.

Jesus told his Apostles in Matthew 18:20,  “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” This is the reality of the Church. People united together with each other through the power of God’s love.

Returning to Mass reminded me of this communion with God AND man. The priest stands in Personi Christ (the Person of Christ). While only a validly ordained priest, Eucharistic prayer, wheat bread, and grape wine are officially needed for the Sacrament to occur, it is a fuller sign of God’s love when the laity are present. Hearing the faithful sing the various hymns helped me to greater enter into the mystery of the Mass.

An Invisible (But Still Real Communion)

Mass is not boring

The community of the laity are a visible sign of communion. Yet, there is an invisible assembly present in the Mass— the angelic hosts and communion of saints. I felt closer to the holy ones during the Eucharist than when I was watching it in my own home on the television.  Jesus’ words to Thomas in John 20:29 hit home last Sunday, “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” This world is not our true home. A world beyond the senses exist.

According to the Catechism, “The whole community thus joins in the unending praise that the Church in heaven, the angels and all the saints (CCC 1352). St. Augustine echoes this truth,  “The angels surround and help the priest when he is celebrating Mass.” Understanding this reality helped deepen my appreciate for the Mass. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Ask God to Give You Strength

God won't leave you

This year continues to send us new and unimaginable trials. Our hearts ache for love. The inability to receive the Eucharist made those challenges exponentially tougher. Some of you may still be in “exile” and wondering how long you have to wander aimlessly in the desert of 2020. God never totally abandons us even though it feels like it sometimes. Read the Bible daily or the writings of saints for comfort. Praying the Rosary or chaplet of Divine Mercy help ward off distress. I offer my sufferings to God in hopes that you may receive spiritual consolation to soothe you during your trials!

Related Links

10 Things You Should Do Until Public Masses Return

Why Priestly Ordinations Give Me Hope in an Age of Pandemic

7 Reasons to Go to Eucharistic Adoration


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How Saint Catherine of Siena Leads You to God

The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Catherine of Siena on April 29th. One of only four women Doctors of the Church, Catherine’s writings and life continues lead people to Christ.

Catherine of Siena

Catherine has been particularly important in my life. When my wife was pregnant with our youngest child  complications existed. Several times throughout the pregnancy we feared having a miscarriage. We prayed daily for the safety of our unborn child and asked for saints Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and Gerard of Majella for help and intercession. Avila Catherine Geraldine was born in late 2018. She was healthy!

Since then my family continues to look to Catherine of Siena as a role model and guide to God. The Doctor of the Church provides mystical insight into the Gospel and demonstrates the depths of God’s love.

Fierce Defender of Truth

Few individuals have displayed such tenacity for the truth as Catherine did in her life. During the 14th century, the Catholic Church endured one of the most corrupt periods. Known as the Avignon papacy, the popes succumbed to worldly powers, specifically under the influence of the French monarchy. Catherine wrote frequently to Pope Gregory XI. An example of her boldness is shown in a Letter to Pope Gregory, “But, I hope, by the goodness of God that you will pay more heed to His honor and the safety of your own flock than to yourself, like a good shepherd, who ought to lay down his life for his sheep.”

Love is a Divine Furnace

Another key theme in Catherine’s writing is describing how God  love burns away sin.  God appears to be absent in our life. Suffering seems mysterious. That was the way I thought before reading the saint’s works. Her description of love as a divine furnace helped me better understand how God allows suffering to draw us closer to Him.

Fire of God's love

Reflecting on my past pains I realized how my prayer life actually bloomed. Having recovered from the contracting COVID19 a couple weeks ago, I rediscovered the importance of relying on God. At first I was angry for getting sick. I took all the precautions. Prayers started out as laments and ended in hope.

God was using my sickness to cauterize my sinful inclinations and renew my prayer life and trust in Him.

Spiritual Sister

According to the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his General Audience on November 24, 2010, “Catherine (of Siena) is one of these and still today speaks to us and impels us to walk courageously toward holiness to be ever more fully disciples of the Lord.” Her intercession is powerful. I used to only think of saints as people too lofty to relate to. But reading the Sienese saint’s writings and her struggles I gained an intimate spiritual relationship with her—like a sister.

Her wit and spiritual knowledge helps me grow in holiness. Sanctity. That truly is the purpose of family. Catherine wrote,  “There is no sin nor wrong that gives man such a foretaste of Hell in this life as anger and impatience.” Wow! Those words sound like they were written specifically for me. Parenting tests your patience. Daily. Hourly. And sometimes nearly every minute.

Catherine of siena quote

Catherine reminds me to trust in God. Her holiness shows through in her books and letters. I highly recommend looking to this Doctor of the Church for spiritual guidance.


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