In recent months it has become apparent that I am a Worrier. Everyone has concerns, and sometimes those concerns get the better of us—but I actively pursue potential problems no matter how unlikely they may be, then chew and chew and chew on them.
I try to pass it off as a strength—foresight leads to preparation, which benefits my whole family. But the truth is less noble: Mostly, I just don’t want to appear late, ill-equipped, or foolish. Despite my best efforts, I am still trying to measure up. But to whose standard?
Jesus warns us against worry:
“So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”
The saints also warn us:
“Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall a soul, except sin. God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.”
St. Francis de Sales
“Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.”
St. Teresa of Avila
“Pray, hope, and do not worry.”
St. Padre Pio
I know this, and yet I persist in losing time and sleep, humor and hair, while fretting about the future and all its possibilities and challenges.
In the past several weeks, God has been working on this aspect of my conversion, especially in two areas of our marriage in which I am not only likely to worry but also to drive my bride nuts: travel and money.
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I remember, many years ago, sitting with Dad in a homemade ice-shanty-turned-deer-shack on the Lofgren farm in Michigan, where we used to hunt. It was muzzleloader deer season, snowy and cold, and we had a little porcelain-coated gas heater to keep us warm while we watched and waited. Dad was slicing an apple with his pocketknife and placing the slices on the top of the heater, where they hissed, filling the shack with the smell of the roasting fruit.
We ate them once they were soft and warm, and talked quietly together. My father is not a religious man; that day he told me he didn’t believe in an afterlife, but that heaven and hell are how people remember you. To his way of thinking, if you were a good person and took care of your family and your neighbors, you would be loved, missed, and remembered well. You would live on in the hearts of others, and that would be heaven.
If you didn’t, you would not be missed, and your memory would fade—or worse, you would be despised in retrospect. That would be hell.
I don’t share this view personally. I believe in a real and eternal afterlife, and I trust in our merciful God to see the goodness and beauty my father has brought into this world. But in the meantime, I want to give Dad something he can use here and now: a glimpse of his “heaven” as it stands today.
Most of our family and close friends know by now that my dad has both Parkinson’s Disease and dementia. If you hadn’t heard, please know that we didn’t intend to keep you in the dark. It’s not the easiest subject to broach, especially for our emotional clan. Parkinson’s and the resulting effects on his hands and mobility have been problems for several years now. The dementia diagnosis is a newer thing. Over the past few years, Dad’s short-term memory has declined and sequential thinking has become more challenging. More recently he has begun to imagine things.
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Last weekend I shared a photo of our driveway, packed to the curb with vehicles, with a caption suggesting that older parents would understand what a blessing it was. A full driveway means a full house, and the hassle of juggling vehicles is more than made up for by the joy of hearing the voices and laughter of our adult children and their friends mingled with Lily’s—our youngest and the only one still home on a regular basis.
Emma surprised us by coming home from the University of Mary on Monday night, ahead of a Holy Week snowstorm in North Dakota. Gabe joined us for supper and Mass on Holy Thursday and stayed until Tuesday, and Trevor plus two out-of-state classmates from Saint John Vianney College Seminary arrived Easter Sunday morning and headed back to Saint Paul with Gabe in time for Bishop Izen’s ordination.
I love our old traditions and the kids’ insistence that we abide by them: going to the Triduum liturgies; flat bread, grape juice, and the Last Supper account after Holy Thursday Mass; silence (or close to it) from noon to 3:00 PM on Good Friday and The Passion of the Christ in the evening; baskets and coloring Easter eggs on Holy Saturday, before the Vigil; and the mysterious Bunny hiding eggs and baskets in the wee hours before Sunday morning.
And I love the new things that arise from older offspring who are doing their own things now: Gabe wearing sandals like a true Franciscan on Good Friday and leading a group to pray at Planned Parenthood; Trevor and his classmates vesting for two Easter Sunday Masses after a full Triduum at the seminary; and sharing Easter greetings with Brendan, Becky, and our grandsons in Rome via video call.
It was a beautiful, blessed Easter.
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Let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
Why is gratitude so difficult? With all the suffering and misfortune in the world, we should be acutely aware of how blessed we are. This should inspire gratitude, generosity, and praise to the Creator, but often it leads to possessiveness, jealousy, and mistrust. We are so accustomed to our prosperity that we sometimes believe we have earned God’s blessings. From there, it is a small step to a sense of entitlement: that we are somehow owed happiness.
Despite countless blessings in my own life, I am a veteran complainer. Often I recognize my blessings, but struggle to manage them until I feel buried. Money and possessions, work and travel, future plans and daydreams—aspects of my life that other people long for—feel like too much to handle. And yet I want more: more space, more comfort, more money, more time to enjoy it all.
If I can’t enjoy what I have, how will enjoy more?
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I must not look like a Jim.
For many years, casual acquaintances have consistently called me by other masculine J-names—especially John. I have been John to people who barely know me and to people who should certainly know better.
Then, several years ago, a priest friend advised me to reflect upon the young apostle John, who sits close enough to Jesus to lean against His breast (c.f. John 13:23-24). A year or two later, a different friend told me, “You are closer to Jesus than you think—leaned right against His chest, close to His Sacred Heart.” From that time forward, he purposely addresses me as John and reminds me of this connection to the youngest apostle frequently.
These two independent references to the same Gospel passage confirmed in me my spiritual proximity to St. John, and our Lord and His mother, at the Last Supper and at the foot of the Cross. It’s a beautiful blessing—but it’s also complicated, especially as a man.
I am close to my dad. I remember as a child and a younger teen stretching out to watch TV and doze on the same couch with him—and I remember, as a young man on an ill-fated elk hunt, suffering altitude sickness and shivering uncontrollably until he wrapped his arms and sleeping bag around me for a hour or more to warm me and still my convulsing body.
Dad is the man I love most in this world, but expressing these intimate moments is difficult, because as men, we don’t generally share such physical closeness publicly.
So what would it take for me, a grown man, to rest my head against the breast of Jesus in a room full of other men?
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