Marriage as Covenant, Church as Marriage

Today is the twenty-second anniversary of our marriage. It has been, and continues to be, a crazy-busy, head-spinning, gut-wrenching week, so we’ve agreed to postpone our celebration until sometime late next week or the following week. It’s an important day, but also no big deal. We’re in it for the long haul.

Not long ago, one of my dear spiritual daughters asked me: If it is natural for people to grow out of some friendships over time, what about marriages? I told her that it’s natural that certain feelings toward your spouse might change over time, like they do toward anyone else. The difference is that married love is not friendship.

Love is choosing the good of another regardless of the cost to yourself. Marriage is a lifelong commitment to love one person above all others save God. Love is an act of the will. Married love is an act of the will—a choice you make, as best you can, for the good of another—every moment of every day for the rest of your life.

In this light, married couples might grow out of friendly feelings, but must not grow out of love for each other. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Private Little Wars

Last weekend I was blessed to make my fourth annual silent retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House at Demontreville, near Lake Elmo, Minnesota. My two eldest sons went with me for a weekend of rest, reflection and spiritual rejuvenation.

The music that is played over the weekend ranges from Gregorian chant to sax-and-bongos praise music that too frequently causes my sons and I make eye contact and stifle laughter. Over the past few weeks, the three of us had been trying to recall a particular song from the late 1960s that seems to be played at every retreat, every year. It isn’t a bad song, but a little too…’60s…for us to really enjoy. We couldn’t remember the name, but knew that the instant it started our eyes would meet, for better or worse. And sure enough, they did, on Friday—the first full day of the retreat. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Is This Seat Taken?

Blogger’s Note: Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, August 1, 2018.

Have you ever been a guest at a friend’s home and found yourself standing at the dinner table, trying to decide where to sit without being presumptuous or disrupting your hosts’ plans? This situation is common enough that Jesus references it in His teaching:

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table” – Luke 14:8-10

That moment of awkward hesitation around the table stems from the recognition that there is a natural order to a dinner party: the head of the table is a place of honor; the host knows who is invited and who should sit where; we should follow his or her lead. Once the guest of honor or the head of the household is seated, the other guests generally move quickly into place. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Learning to Surrender

Blogger’s Note: Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, July 25, 2018.

Last weekend was a whirlwind. We hosted a graduation party for our second son, Gabe, which meant that my parents, their dog, and my eldest son’s girlfriend, Becky, joined the seven of us and our dog in our three-bedroom house Friday through Sunday. The Engels—six in number, and as much family as our blood relatives—spent much of the daylight hours and a few after dark with us as well. The house was packed to the rafters and filled with laughter; the weather was wonderful, the turnout was great, and a joy was pervasive among almost everyone.

Almost everyone, except me. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: What Are We Doing Here?

Blogger’s Note: Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, July 18, 2018.

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One of the spiritual practices I am trying to cultivate in my life these days is holy simplicity. For example, just today I finally ditched my sleek Motorola smartphone for a bulky blue flip-phone with very limited data capabilities. My smartphone had become a distraction from the things that matter—family, friends, and even strangers who are present to me in the moment—as well as a source of frustration and anxiety. I can’t remember how to get anywhere without Google Maps and at random moments through the day, I feel the phantom buzz of notifications that don’t exist. It’s too much.

So I’m trying to simplify: to limit the number and kind of things I am about and to do what I am doing. Continue reading