You Don’t Stand a Chance

Note: This post appears as the Sunday, January 10, bulletin column for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

Many years ago, I ran across this bit of wisdom from Chinese poet Ching An:

“The joke’s on me: This year’s man is last year’s man.”

Ching An

Ain’t that the way of things? It may be a new year, but old habits die hard. As a result, many of us step boldly into January with big plans and a lot of false bravado to disguise our limp and cover our crutches.

For example, every January I struggle to accept all the things I haven’t accomplished in the previous year. What I have achieved doesn’t matter; the list of things I wish I’d done is always longer—invariably leading to speculation about what I need to do differently:

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What Child Is This?

Note: This post appears as the January 3, 2021, bulletin column (the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God) for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been smitten with the image of the pregnant Virgin Mary. When Jodi began showing with our first baby, I was struck with a notion that may be foreign to women undergoing the physical changes that accompany incubating new humans, but that hopefully has occurred to other men: Pregnant women are beautiful. The glow of the expecting mother is long established and oft reported, but the bodily transformation is no less captivating. A luminous mother-to-be, her belly impossibly round with child, calls to mind the miraculous, celestial beauty of the stars and planets—even drawing us into orbit around her.

The Pregnant Virgin Mary

This is appropriate, since she bears the future of the species, the planet, even the universe, within her womb.

If that’s true of my bride, it’s truer for our Blessed Mother. Mary’s circumstance was more difficult than most first pregnancies, but her trust and her joy were no doubt more complete. I see this young woman, innocent and unassuming, bearing the changes and challenges confronting her with simplicity and obedience, radiating the life of God within her while pouring herself out in service to her cousin, Elizabeth, and later, to her husband Joseph.

Do you see her, too? Is she not beautiful?

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Last Call: A Christmas Dialogue

This year’s Christmas poem is a conversation and a modest attempt at Shakespearean style. The inspiration popped into my head several weeks ago: an imagined meeting of the World, the Flesh and the Devil, who are sharing a pint of “Christmas cheer” at the end of a seemingly successful year of sowing strife and division. The line that came first to mind was from the Flesh: “The spirit is weak, and the flesh is always willing.”—which survives in a modified form.

For whatever reason, I remain taken with the idea of Satan struggling to accept that he has been defeated by an Infant and His Mother. A few sparks from literature and pop culture also came to mind, for example, C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” Scrooge’s promise at the end of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to discuss Bob Cratchit’s situation “over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop,” and the exchange between Captain Jack Sparrow and Gibbs in the Tortuga tavern in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

It may be easier to print and read in this format. Apologies to the Bard—I hope a few of you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

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Scene: A dark corner of a noisy tavern, lit by melted candle stubs and a large, crackling fire. A table with three chairs and three tankards. Two figures are seated: the World, slight, anxious and in constant motion; the Flesh, immense and languid, with eyes that rove around the room. A third figure, the Devil, well-dressed with a commanding bearing, approaches, and the first two rise.

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The Plan and the Power

This post appeared in the December 20, 2020, bulletins for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

In my newspaper days, I had the opportunity to profile an inventor, a young man who had created and patented a few small, practical products and was hustling every day to market them to retailers and the public. He proved to be focused, driven and wise beyond his years.

Not long after I wrote about him, I introduced him to another aspiring inventor I knew. The more accomplished man shared all he could about creating a prototype to prove your concept, pursuing a patent and more. Then he took a long look at the younger man and said something like this: “Sometimes a person with an idea gets to this point and stops, because it’s more comforting to have an idea in your back pocket than to try it and learn it doesn’t work or won’t sell. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to say, ‘I can always do that’ than to have nothing to fall back on.”

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What Can I Do for You?

Note: This post appeared in the December 13 editions of the St. Michael and St. Albert bulletins.

A wise older friend advised, “Every morning when you wake, ask God, ‘What do you want me to do for you today?’” Dutifully, I put a note on my side of the bed as a reminder, and most morning since, I have asked that question.

Occasionally, an answer emerges almost before I’ve asked—like the topic of this column, or the Lord urging me to be present, be gentle and listen to my bride. But often, I sit in silence, in the dark, and hear nothing. I wait a moment or two, then continue with my morning.

This makes me wonder if I’m not asking in the right way. I begin to grapple with the voices in my head and the desires in my heart, trying to direct a one-sided conversation with a God who, for the moment, chooses silence.

If I knew what He wanted at the beginning of the day, wouldn’t I make every effort to achieve it? So why won’t He just tell me?

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