Note: This post appeared in the Sunday, November 22, bulletins for St. Michael Catholic Church and the Church of St. Albert.
Some of you know that my bride and I are discerning the diaconate. Many years ago I mentioned becoming a deacon to a priest-friend. His response was that I should focus on my marriage and family, not ordination.
At the time, I took his response as absolute: The diaconate is not for me. Then, several years later, our beloved retired deacon Maynard Warne suggested it to me. I mentioned the priest’s advice, and Deacon Maynard said it might be time to reconsider.
In the years since, multiple people—friends, acquaintances and colleagues—have nudged me toward the diaconate. And I do feel called to serve the Lord in some deeper and more radical way.
Yesterday my spiritual brother Mike and I traveled to Perham to pick up freshly-butchered beef we were blessed to buy from Becky’s aunt and uncle. It was about a three-hour drive each way; the meat market was jumping when we arrive, and we also stopped at Disgruntled Brewing in Perham for a pint and Beck’s Burger Company in Staples for a very late lunch (or an early supper). All told, the venture took the better part of the day and evening, by the time we the meat was safely stowed in our respective freezers.
Of course, we had plenty of time to talk. The conversation started with the usual topics these days: the pandemic, the election, the upcoming holidays and how our respective families (immediate and extended) are managing the risk, the uncertainty and the deep desire to be together during times like these.
Our children need each other and us, and we need them.
I dropped Trevor at Holy Spirit yesterday morning and took the scenic route home, past Pelican Lake. The sun was a blaze of yellow-gold in an ice blue sky, the snow was a hard gleam of white over the fields, and the shadows cast by bough, branch or blade cut dark blue gashes on the ground. The dawn was a study in brightness and contrast—the colors washed out or deepened until the world almost appeared black and white, the lines sharpened, the darkness more stark in the light…
…until a new perspective set the wild lands ablaze. I followed a sweeping curve, and the sunrise ignited the landscape. Woods and weeds, willows and reeds, glowed with a golden halo of hoarfrost—what looked as bitter and biting as last week’s election now softened and warmed in the golden light.
Isn’t it strange what perspective can do? Hard lines and shadows dissolve in the divine light, beauty blazes up, and with it goodness and truth. The night ends, the day breaks, the winter is long but finite; the Lord still pours out His life and love, still looks upon all the work of His hands and, smiling, says, Behold, it is very good.
We dare not hold that gaze too long, that look of love in His eyes. We feel ourselves a waving weed in a windblown winter field, exposed, insignificant, starved for His attention. Do we not see that, bathed in His light, each of us is beautiful, unique and necessary? We are ablaze with divine life, and the world is ours to warm.
Nearly a month ago now, on October 6, our eldest son and his bride welcomed their first child into the world. The birth of a child is an everyday occurrence; all across the globe, fathers fret as mothers labor to bring wriggling, helpless, little humans into this world, as we have for thousands of years. Medicine and technology have improved to the point that many—even the majority—of these children survive past infancy and on to adulthood, so that sometimes we forget how miraculous this is. Sometimes fathers and mothers even think they are primarily responsible for creating the new life they hold in their arms.
They are not.
Biologically speaking, we parents are certainly involved in the earthier aspects of the miracle, and in our better moments, we may even desire, will and proactively seek to bring a child into the world. But no amount of wishing or willing can create a child or bring him or her to term. God does the hard work and invites us along for the ride. So it was for Jodi and me, when we welcomed each of our five children into the world—and in another, profound way, when we lost our little Jude. And so it is for Brendan and Becky.
His name is Augustine James Thorp.* I’m a dziadzi.**
Note: This post also appears in the St. Michael and St. Albert bulletins this weekend.
Last weekend I visited my parents in Michigan. It’s a 12-hour drive; my sister and I spent two days helping to sort through and organize 50 years of accumulation in their basement—then I drove 12 hours back home. It was a good weekend, in large part because I mostly avoided my phone and computer to focus on where I was, what I was doing and—most importantly—who I was with.
That is no small thing for me, because I slip easily into thinking about tomorrow, next week, the future. I am a planner by nature and struggle with uncertainty, but providentially, I listened to a wonderful audio version of C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters on the way to my folks’ place. The book is presented as a series of letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape, who is offering advice to his nephew, a junior tempter trying to lure one particular human soul to Hell.