Take the Wheel

The post was published as a column in the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin for Sunday, April 25.

I have a bone to pick with Fr. Mike Schmitz.

Before you send a message up to Duluth to tell him I’m calling him out, let me explain: Several years ago, I shared a wonderful video of his with the parents in our LIFT classes, entitled “Heaven: You’re Not Good Enough (and Why That’s Okay).”

It’s a great video—Google it!—but in the final minute, he says something that has haunted me ever since: “I’m not good enough to go to the Olympics, and I’m not good enough to go to heaven, but any one of us can surrender.”

Any one of us can surrender. He says it, just like that.

Have you ever tried? I have. I can say the words and think the thoughts, but when it comes to actually letting go and letting God, I can’t unclench my fists.

Any one of can surrender, he says. Sure…but how?

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Mercy Made Easy

This post ran as a column in the Sunday, April 11, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

A friend frequently reminds me to “keep my armor polished.” By this he means if I stumble into a significant sin—or even if it’s just been a while, and the daily imperfections have smudged and tarnished the sheen on my soul—don’t wait; get to Confession.

I was pressed for time in the run-up to Holy Week. I wasn’t struggling with anything grave or intentional, and with my schedule packed and my energy ebbing, something had to give. So I postponed Confession.

Then, as usual, the fog descended.

I don’t know about you, but even the accumulation of venial sins obscures my spiritual sight. I think less clearly, feel more anxious, see challenges in a worse light, and feel temptations more keenly. On Monday of Holy Week, I sat down to examine my conscience and six weeks of debris tumbled from my heart and onto the paper. Suddenly the weight was apparent, so that even the long lines at the penance service could not deter me unburdening myself.

When my turn came at last, I stepped past the screen to look Father in the eye. I was surprised not to recognize the priest: a stocky man with a fringe of clipped hair around a bald dome, and calm but serious eyes. He began without greeting: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

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Your Cross Was Made for You

This post ran as a column in the Sunday, March 28, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

Last weekend Fr. Park’s homily drew our attention to a simple turn of phrase in the gospel account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was” (John 11:5-6).

Jesus loved them. So he waited. He lets Lazarus die and Martha and Mary suffer. Why? For the glory of God, so that some greater good might result. Even at our worst, our heavenly Father knows best. As Fr. Park said, quoting St. John Henry Newman: “He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

This sort of friendship is not easy to endure.

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‘More Money Than God’

I was talking with our son Trevor the other day and used the phrase “more money than God.” It occurred to me as I said it that the phrase could be taken two ways:

  • The first is the typical way: So-and-so has a greater amount of money than God has. (Not that God needs money…)
  • The second is more ominous: So-and-so has more money than the amount of God he has.

The second interpretation is the one Jesus warns us against, most concisely in Matthew 6:24: You cannot serve both God and mammon.

What is mammon? Wealth and riches, particularly in excess. Historically the word was thought to reference a demon or god associated with material wealth.

I’d like to think we’re not at risk of placing money ahead of God. We are not wealthy by US standards; we live on a budget and give to the church as best we can. Several years ago, Jodi and I began to dig out of debt—and while that journey is ongoing, last week we shared a short video outlining why we are supporting the parish’s BOLD FUTURE campaign.

We are blessed, we know it, and we are trying to share those blessings. Surely we have more God than money in our lives…right?

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What Is God Doing?

Last weekend, Fr. Brian Park delivered a wonderful homily on the Transfiguration from the perspective of St. Peter. He began by reminding that less than a week before Jesus, Peter, James and John ascended Mount Tabor, Jesus told His disciples for the first time that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Peter wanted none of this news and pulled Jesus aside to correct Him. The future saint simply could not believe that this could be God’s plan.

Father closed his homily with a stark declaration: There is no glory without the cross.

Sometimes I find myself in Peter’s shoes, listening to the Lord as best I can and trying to understand—then finally crying out in exasperation, “God, what are you doing?!” I look at the plan unfolding around me and cannot see the sense in it, so I stand in the breach, athwart God’s will, to challenge the One who breathed me into being.

O foolish man! I am no Moses—and God’s will is never thwarted.

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