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.

Thank you for sharing!

Why You’re Never Too Old to Evangelize

By: Nancy Ward

Old Sally leaned forward expectantly in her wheelchair inside the front door of the nursing center, awaiting the Sunday visitors. She was the first person my husband and I met on our initial assignment as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist in 1985. The director had gathered the ambulatory Catholic residents into the library, which served as a chapel. Old Sally insisted on showing us the way and introducing us to the residents as her “new friends.”

new friend

As she made her way to her place in the center of the room, Old Sally stopped gave each person a hug or a pat on the hand. After the Communion service, I found that Old Sally had a story for everyone, many about answered prayers, healings, miracles – and some of them involved her great-grandchildren.  Her contagious laughter permeated the halls and drew the curious out of their TV stupors.

When I fast-forward for thirty years, I realize that I am about the same age as Old Sally was then. I’m not confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home, but I have stories—journals jammed full of accounts of what God has done in my life. The odd assortment of notebooks recount answered prayers, healings and miracles — some of them involved my new great-grandchildren.

Evangelization is about God’s Work

Old Sally taught me that evangelization is not about me or how well I can convince those lonely souls on the fringes of the church that they need God. Evangelization is about sharing what God has done in my life.

My spiritual biography began when I was a year old when I was baptized in my grandmother’s Protestant Church. I grew up going to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and Youth Ministry. When I was 15, I realized God was real and loved me. Me!  I gave my life to Jesus at a Youth Ministry Retreat but kept my relationship with God a deep secret I couldn’t put into words. When my father died suddenly three years later, Jesus was the only one to comfort me and I knew he would never leave me.

I worked in the church office in college, fell in love with a Catholic man and struggled with the difference in our denominations before we married in the Catholic Church. We moved around frequently in the military service. After three years of sporadic instructions and trying out the Catholic lifestyle, I knew by the peace in my heart that I  belonged in the Catholic Church. There I’ve found the fullness of my Faith.

new evangelization

During post-Vatican II fits and starts of renewal in the church, I learned from Saint John Paul II that the most effective way to evangelize is through our personal witness—what we know best and what we have available to us. Could I do this? I participated in every renewal program I could find, and recorded accounts of spectacular encounters with God in my journals.

Experience More Powerful than Logic

Saint Peter’s call to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15), called me to start blogging. I rummaged through decades of journals to find stories to share on the Internet. I discovered that I had greatly underestimated the power of my simple story and stopped focusing on all the “do nots”  and “should nots” of evangelizing.

I’m not a theologian or a gifted orator. If I was, my audience could question my logic. No one can refute the experience of my personal encounter with Christ! As for you, think of all the life lessons God has taught you through your God-moments!

God promises us, through the Psalmist,

“The just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, they shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bear fruit even in old age, always vigorous and sturdy, as they proclaim: “The LORD is just; our rock, in whom there is no wrong.” (Psalm 92:13-16)

I’m part of the elder generation of faithful Christians who know the Truth and bring that Truth to the spiritual orphans of our secular culture. Vigorous and sturdy. We shall bear fruit among those whom no one else can evangelize but who can relate to us right here and now. We interact with the walking wounded at Walmart and can minister to the casualties of the culture of death.

Don’t be Afraid to Share Your Story

Share your story

When you share a story that’s relevant to the problem your listeners are struggling with, they will hear you. The cancer diagnosis they just received is less frightening in light of how God brought you through chemo and radiation treatments.

Trust the Holy Spirit. Prepare to tell your story by clarifying it through journaling but don’t rely only your own power. The Holy Spirit has empowered you to evangelize through your personal testimony and will guide you beyond what you can ever imagine. He knows who and when and where to share your story, for he has prepared the way.

As for what to say, rely on the promise Jesus made to us in John 14:26 that, “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

God Will Take Care of You

Jesus keeps his promises. The Holy Spirit has come! He will remind you of everything that Jesus has told you about your faith and your faith story. Then he will help you keep focused on what God does.

Know your story and know that God’s grace makes his presence real to those who receive your testimony. The encouragement they feel from your story is an answer to their prayers because you were available and ready for God to evangelize through you.

Old Sally didn’t worry about the “correct way” to evangelize or what reactions she would get. She exemplified the spirit of the New Evangelization in letting the love of Jesus overflow from within her to those around her. She trusted the Holy Spirit. Sally took St. Peter’s instructions as a direct order and was  always ready to share a story to bring hope to anyone.

Because you have lived a one-of-a-kind story, you alone can tell it from your heart in your one-of-a-kind voice with your authentic wording and emphasis. Someone is waiting to hear your story. Are you ready to share it?

Thank you for sharing!

How the Coronavirus Pandemic is an Opportunity for Catholics to Serve the Poor

This post was sponsored by a generous lay member of the Diocese of Barbados. COVID19 has hit this Catholic diocese particularly strong and many parishioners are in need of assistance.

Consider helping out by visiting God Squad T-Shirts to purchase a Catholic t-shirt. 100% of all proceeds will be used to buy food for the poor.


Over the centuries, humans have endured unimaginable trials. Volcanoes, hurricanes, droughts, famines, floods, and World Wars. The author of Ecclesiastes  was right in saying, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” 

Our current situation with the COVID19 pandemic may seem unique. While the majority of people living haven’t experienced an event of this magnitude in their lifetime, largescale illnesses have spread the globe before. The virus has not only affected individual’s physical health but also spiritual, emotional, mental, and economic health.

Catholic and Coronavirus

The Catholic Church has been a bastion of hope during these times in the past. Now is the time for the Church to provide aid again. More than a building or group of bishops, the Church is primarily a community founded on love and obedience to God. According to 1 Peter 2:7-8, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone.”

The primary commandment is to love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. How precisely do you love your neighbor in 2020?

Corporeal Works of Mercy

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2447,

The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.

Jesus specifically detailed these works of mercy in Matthew 25: 35-46. Preceding the passage about the Judgment of Nations are the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the Talents. The first parable teaches about the importance of being prepared spiritually because we don’t know the time when our death arrives. In the second parable, Jesus talks about how our natural talents should be used for the common good. If we share our talents (time and treasure) to help others in need we will receive countless graces.

Corporeal works of mercy

Dioceses throughout the world face economic hardship due to the lockdowns. Our brothers and sisters in faith suffer hunger and financial strain. It can be difficult to help others in need especially if you and your family are currently going through similar pressures. Below I will examine a couple examples of saintly witnesses who cared for the poor despite suffering their own crosses.

Saint Gemma Galgani

Gemma Galgani is the patron saint of the poor and unemployed. She was only 8 years old when her mother died. Gemma’s father encountered financial strain shortly after. He was always a good steward with his wealth, but sickness and the death of his wife led to creditors seizing his property. Succumbing to cancer of the throat, Gemma’s father passed away when she was 19 year old.

Saint Gemma Galgani

Gemma orphaned lived in destitution and the churches had to take up collections for her and her siblings to eat. The saint wrote, “I am happy in every way that Jesus wills, and if Jesus wants the sacrifice of my life, I give it to Him at once. If He wants anything else, I am ready. One thing alone is enough for me; to be his victim, in order to atone for my innumerable sins, and if possible, for those of the whole world” How incredible is her faith? Certainly her story resonates with us during this year of endless trials.

Saint Charles Borromeo

Another saint who lived through an impoverished time was Charles Borromeo. As bishop of Milan, he is most famous for organizing the last session of the Council of Trent. The patron saint of catechists also promoted reform in the Catholic Church. At first his life may seem completely different from Gemma— a bishop versus an orphan.

Saint Charles Borromeo

Charles exhibited the same care for the poor as Gemma. He lived through the Bubonic plague (yes the 16th century was crazy!). Milan endured famine and eventually outbreak of the plague. Despite the secular leaders fleeing the city in fear, Charles remained to care for the people. He sought to feed 60,000 to 70,000 people daily and used all his funds feeding the hungry that he eventually went into debt.

The Italian bishop lived out the corporeal works of mercy. He sought to comfort the afflicted and care for the poor and sick. Saint Charles is an outstanding model for our current situation.

Be Christ to Others

Saints Gemma and Charles listened to the God’s will in the face of their own suffering. Loving our neighbors is not always easy. But carrying our crosses never is easy. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” 

Sadly, I have seen people remain apathetic to others’ suffering. “I doesn’t affect me. I don’t know them so why should I care.” God created humans to live communally. We are to care for the less fortunate. Our life can turn around quickly. Those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic know truth well.

Live out the corporeal works of mercy. Become Christ to everyone you meet. Donate to the poor individually or to charities. You may not be able to help out financially at this time. Share your time or talents with your neighbors. Pray for the conversion of souls and end of the pandemic.


Help our Catholic brothers and sisters in the Caribbean by visiting God Squad T-Shirts to purchase a Catholic t-shirt. 100% of all proceeds will be used to buy food for the poor.

If you are not able to donate at this time please share this post with your Catholic family and friends.

May God bless you and your generosity!

Thank you for sharing!

How Suffering is Purposeful

A purpose in pain

Suffering is necessary for transformation.

If I did not suffer I would not be able to rely on God as much and I would not be able to be so aware of how sinful person I am.

Pride. Greed. Sloth. Lust. Gluttony. Anger. Envy.

I suffer from all these deadly sins.

I am suffering from them a lot less than I did five years ago.

Going through the trauma of losing all that I lost in 2014 made me the man I am today.

But God‘s not done with me. And I don’t want to be done with me not until I learned to be so unselfish that it’s so natural not just a majority of the time but all the time.

I just don’t want to be a good person I want to be a saint.

I want to be a person that others look to for help and encouragement.

Suffering sucks. But you know what?

Jesus suffered. Worse than anything I will endure.

If he didn’t avoid pain what makes me so special to think I should avoid suffering.

Suffering transforms. Makes you beautiful.

How is your Holy Triduum going?

What things can I pray for you?

Live Holy Week

Thank you for sharing!

The Simple Catholic Named One of Top Catholic Blogs in 2019

I was pleasantly surprised and very humbled to receive the news that my blog The Simple Catholic was recognized by Feedspot.com as one of the top 120 Catholic blogs for 2019 (#102).

Thank you for support

Thank you to all the people who helped me with encouragement, writing guest posts, and engaging with my content on this platform. You my readers are the reason I write. I humbly use this platform as a means to inform and entertain you about the Catholic faith and my journey as a parent with special needs children.

Special shout to my wife Jennifer she was instrumental to my success: she proofread my articles, gave me time to write, and listened to me brainstorm my ideas 💡

It is also her birthday and I had a unique and cool surprise for her—stayed tuned later as I will reveal that later today. 😊

Thank you to William Hemsworth M.Div, Orlando U Javien Jr., Andrew Garofalo, and Megan Naumovski for your guest posts and to Keith A. Little for your future content on my site. Please visit the Guest Posts page to read these stellar works by these gifted writers.

Thank you to Pete Socks for reaching out to me with help in promoting visibility of my writing services.

I am a blessed man. I am nothing without your help and ultimately the grace of the Holy Trinity.

Here is a link to the top Catholic blogs if you are curious about the list. There are excellent blogs to follow so please check those out. 👍

https://blog.feedspot.com/catholic_blogs/

#catholic #catholiccontent #chicoinecontent #gratitudeisouroxygen #gratitude #success #catholicblogs #catholicwriting #writing

Thank you for sharing!

The Prophet of Scripture and the Wizard of Fantasy—Part I: Archetypes and Myths

By. Andrew Garofalo

In her book, Awakening the Heroes Within, Carol S. Pearson discusses twelve archetypes. According to psychologist Carl Jung, an archetype is a symbol or motif that is repeatedly represented in mythology, art and literature. In all forms of storytelling we see universal characters and situations that are unrelated, yet they share many of the same traits. Similarities between creation and flood stories and hero stories from different cultures around the world come to mind. There’s also the monomyth (or hero’s journey) story template that we see in classical mythology and more recently in books and movies like Harry PotterThe Lord of the Rings, and the original Star Wars trilogy.

Archetypes

According to Jung, archetypes are not only represented in fictional stories though. He believed archetypes are a kind of inherited knowledge that lives in the unconscious mind of all people and that we unknowingly use archetypes to interpret the world and our place in it. Pearson says archetypes are “inner guides” that exemplify “a way of being on the journey” we call life. Note that Pearson isn’t saying archetypes are beings themselves. They are not angels, demons or spirits, but collective knowledge passed on through the generations. Pearson associates archetypes closely with the monomyth which she envisions in three stages: the preparation, journey and return of the hero (Joseph Campbell saw it as departure, initiation and return and I see the saint’s journey as the call, the cross and communion).

one hero fighting 3 knights

A Catholic Perspective on Archetypes and Myths

Though Jung and his followers like Pearson are psychologists, archetypes do not appear to be purely scientific or artistic in nature. Rather, there is a transcendent quality to them.

In book one of his four-book series, Finding True Happiness, Father Robert Spitzer, SJ recognizes Jungian archetypes as one of the four major dimensions of religious intuition and experience. “The archetypal story calls each of us to be a hero [in the cosmic struggle between good and evil,] … to resist the forces of evil and to assist the divine mystery in bringing humanity to its proper and full end.”

In his second book in the series, The Soul’s Upward Yearning, Father Spitzer connects archetypes to myths when he asks, “What is it about these three stories [Harry PotterThe Lord of the Rings and Star Wars] that catapults them ahead of other great … [stories]? In a word, they all fit the technical description of myths.” Father Spitzer says myths are not concerned with worldly narratives, but with transcendent and spiritual narratives. “The objective of myths is to express ultimate truth and meaning … ultimate reality. … [M]yths fascinate and captivate not only our imaginations but our very souls.” Mythical stories appeal to our emotions; we feel them.

Great Catholics on Myths

Father Spitzer is in good company in his understanding of myths. While some might fear myths as un-Christian or consider them childish fairy tales, St John Paul II said myths communicate something “more than real” and he called classical myths “more than true” (from The Human Person, by J. Brian Bransfield). Furthermore, JRR Tolkien, a devout Catholic and the author of The Lord of the Rings, said, “[Myths are] the best way–sometimes the only way–of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.”

Father Spitzer distinguishes himself from Jung and his followers in their understanding of archetypes in one important way. Whereas Jung believed archetypes derive from a common inherited human memory, Father Spitzer believes archetypes derive from a transcendent reality (the numinous experience, religious intuition, and conscience), i.e., from God. I am in agreement with Father Spitzer.

How Archetypes Affect Our Expectations About Stories

Archetypes might explain why great stories closely follow the monomyth (and the three-act structure we see in stories portrayed in all kinds of media). When people experience a story, they expect it to unfold in a certain way based on the archetypes they know. When stories follow the archetypes, the audience is happy. But when heroes and villains don’t behave the way they’re supposed to and stories don’t follow the patterns we expect, they violate our archetypes. And so these rebellious books and movies collect dust at the bookstore (or in the Amazon warehouse) and bomb at the box office.

The Magician and the Sage

Two archetypes discussed in Pearson’s book are the Magician and the Sage. As I read about these archetypes, I thought of two people. One real, the prophet Elijah, and one fictional, the wizard Gandalf. First, let’s look at the motivations of the Magician and the Sage and then we will review the stories of Elijah and Gandalf through the archetypal lens.

As you read on, please keep in mind that much of what we discuss below is metaphorical. We do not believe people are literally Magicians who cast magic spells, but that the Magician figure in stories represents an archetype or truth which derives from God and which plays out metaphorically at different times in each of our life’s journey.Dragon and magician

The Magician Archetype

Pearson says the Magician archetype’s goal is to transform lesser things into greater things. He fears transformation in a negative direction (greater things into lesser things). He responds to problems by transforming or healing them. His task is to align himself with the cosmos and his gift or grace is personal power. The wounded king must be healed by the Magician in order to transform the kingdom.

Magicians typically work as advisers to kings, but when the kingdom is in disarray, they work alone. Magicians seek to connect with others and with the world (they believe everything is interdependent). They know and tell the stories of their culture. They seek to turn negative situations into opportunities for growth and, through compassion and forgiveness, they try to transform negative people and situations into positive ones.

stand in front of passage to city

Finding Balance

Magicians seek a healthy and balanced body, mind and soul. They invoke the divine help of others, e.g., through the intercession of the saints, and they maintain a close relationship with their deity through prayer and meditation. Magicians seek transformation through ritual, e.g., liturgy. They follow their intuition even when others might think they are crazy. A Magician’s ego, which is necessary for him to achieve his goal, can work for him (in the virtue of fortitude) or against him (in the vice of arrogance).

The Sage Archetype

The Sage archetype’s goal is truth and understanding. He fears deception and illusion. He responds to problems by studying, understanding and transcending them. His task is to attain knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment and his gift or grace is skepticism, wisdom and detachment. The Sage seeks the truth about himself, the world and the universe. His ultimate goal is not just knowledge, but wisdom. He understands that the truth shall set him free.

Sages seek to solve the riddle of existence. They speak in parables and symbols. They know the answers they obtain depend on the questions they ask. The Sage seeks universal truth over subjective truths. They know they must understand themselves and their own biases in order to discover the truth. Sages believe knowing oneself is a journey.

Pearson says Sages understand they can never know everything; this helps them develop humility. The Sage seeks freedom through detachment. Jesuits call it indifference; mystics also call it detachment. Sages believe real freedom and joy lies in turning one’s life over to a transcendent and wiser power than oneself, e.g., God. Suffering opens one up to trust and let go, to stop fighting life and trusting in the process of life, e.g., Divine Providence.

In Part II of this series we will examine the lives of Elijah and Gandalf through the lens of archetypes.

Sources:

1 Kings 17-21

2 Kings 2

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Pearson, Carol S. Awakening the Heroes Within. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Spitzer, Robert. Finding True Happiness. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015.

Spitzer, Robert. The Soul’s Upward Yearning. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015.

Vawter, Bruce. “Introduction to Prophetic Literature.” In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 186-200.

https://www.quora.com/What-kinds-of-spells-did-Gandalf-cast

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainur_(Middle-earth)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archetype

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_unconscious#Archetypes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandalf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hobbit

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_archetypes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maia_(Middle-earth)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vala_(Middle-earth)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wizard_(Middle-earth)


Andrew Garofalo lives in Parkland, Florida with his wife Julie and their three children. He has practiced law for 18 years and is currently discerning a vocation to the permanent diaconate. He is a contributor to Those Catholic Men and Voyage Comics & Publishing and the creator of Saint’s Journey Blog. You can find more of his work at www.saintsjourney.com.

Thank you for sharing!