You Did It For Me

It is the first full week of Lent, and already I struggle. I must have chosen well which things to uproot from my life—my family and I are enjoying great sport pointing out my unconscious consumption and countless offhand comments, both of which I’m attempting to quit.

Additionally, each Lent we notice how little we focus specifically, consciously, on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  During our morning prayers, Jodi and I shared today’s Gospel reading,  Matthew 25:31-46, which includes these words of warning:

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’  …  ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

It’s sobering each time we hear it: another year flown by, and what did we do for the least of His brothers? Our brothers?

Sure we’ve given money, now and again. We lend a hand when we can. And we pray—often—for the poor. In fact, in the past year we’ve added a prayer to each and every meal. Each time we say Grace, we end with a prayer adopted from a couple of local families who are dear to us: “May God provide for the needs of others as He has provided for us. Amen.”

So this morning we prayed, read Scripture, reflected, and discussed. When we sat to eat breakfast, we said the meal prayer and added our family coda.

Something struck me. That little added prayer, which should have made us more aware of those in need, was serving as our escape clause. The prayer should be: “May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us.”

God provides abundantly for His people, but although we are equal in dignity, inequalities abound as part of His plan.

On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The “talents” are not distributed equally. These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1936-1937).

In other words, inequalities exist so that we complement each other and share what we have with those in need out of love. We cannot outsource this call to charity, especially by foisting it back upon the Giver of all Gifts. He gave them to us for a reason.

So we’ve changed our prayer (for Lent, and maybe for good) in order to change our hearts:

May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us. Amen.

May this thrice-a-day reminder spur us to action. God has already done His part to take care of those in need: He gave them me.

Living Lent as a Family

Blogger’s Note: This post originally written for and published in the February 2018 edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church stewardship newsletter.

Most of us don’t actively seek out sacrifice or suffering, and Lent is a season that encourages both: We give up meat on Fridays; we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; we are called to pray and give alms. Jodi and I spent this past Epiphany with some dear friends and discussed how our families approach Lent. Below are several of the best ideas shared that afternoon—may they spark new Lenten traditions in your own family!

Preparing for Lent

In the weeks leading up to Lent, spend time with your spouse and each of your children discussing how each of you are doing emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. This can help you assess where you need to prune and where you need to grow. Ask: What brings me joy? What makes me anxious or upset? What’s going well, and what do I wish was going better?

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Airedale Chronicles: Bruno At Six Months

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Name: Bruno

Aliases: Bru, Bru-ski, Muttley, Fluffydog, Fat-Dog, Bonehead

Age: Six months

Occupation: Complete Nut

On Saturday, Bruno reached his half-birthday. People ask all the time how things are going with the puppy. I tell them, imagine your son hit puberty during the terrible twos.

Gone almost overnight are the tiny puppy teeth. We found some of his tiny incisors, and I snatched out three hanging molars myself, but those needle-like puppy canines simply disappeared. His adult canines are lengthening daily. They look worse, but feel better.

He no longer snaps or chews on us, but he approaches everything and everyone he loves with jaws agape. He wants to mouth you. He also wants to rub his head and body against your legs like a cat, to push himself between them as you stand or beneath them as you sit. (He took little Lily for a ride the other day by standing up while she was carefully stepping over him.)

If you are lying down, his first move is to stick his cold wet nose in your ear, and if you’ve only just gotten up and are wearing your pajama shorts, he likes to run that same nose from the back of your calf to the back of your knee, leaving a cold wet snail-trail to help bring your morning into focus.

As a young friend of ours says, he “got his puberty.” He is rapidly approaching fifty pounds, and beneath the dark puppy fur on his head, ears, shoulders and neck, he is rapidly turning tan. And he stinks. Again almost overnight, he went from a sweet-smelling puppy to a rank jock of a dog; we’re bathing him weekly to keep up (or rather, to keep the smell down).

Wanderlust has also kicked in, so we keep him tethered outside and are beginning to work specifically on coming when called.

It was bitterly cold for awhile, then quite icy, making the walking of a forty-plus-pound, high-energy puppy treacherous. Thankfully for the past few weeks Bruno has seemed content to play and sleep in the house, all the while gaining size (and storing energy, apparently). Yesterday I took him for a walk, and was struck by how much stronger, more energetic, and more fearless he is. He strained forward with his body and his attention; he needed constant reminders not to pull, and shot this way and that to investigate chunks of snow, icy patches, debris, and other dogs. A Pomeranian elicited insistent whining, two separate retrievers sparked whining and great leaps up into the air, and the pair of enormous, booming Great Danes up the street (which Bruno refused to walk past as a pup, and had to be carried), garnered leaps, barks, and playful growls and snarls.

He jumped around, spun circles, scrambled and skittered on the ice, snapped at his lead, and was generally nutty. He paid acute attention to the neighbor’s horse (his giiiiiirlfriend…) and to a pickup hauling a bouncing and rattling aluminum trailer (which caused him to jump back, scoot sideways, and stare). Then, when we returned home, he tore around the house, a rubber mallard in his jaws, tossing it violently, shaking it viciously, and generally showing himself to be an adolescent terrier.

He still tries to sit in my lap. He still has one corkscrew ear that springs sideways from his head. We joke that this ear is attuned to the voices in his head while the other is listening to us. Which one wins the moment is a crap shoot.

He’s a good puppy, on his way to becoming a good dog. Good boy, Bruno.

What I Couldn’t Say

Yesterday was Bethany’s wake; today will be her funeral. For me, the wake was a flurry of hugs and tears; I had an evening meeting to attend and wanted to see as many of my Poland daughters as possible, along with Bethany’s family, before I left.

It was hard to feel the heartache of people you care for in your arms and chest as you hold each other in sorrow. I wished aloud more than once that I could say something to ease the pain of her passing (I believe that, in the moment, the words were actually “to make this suck less”)—but I don’t know why this happened, and I miss her, too.

* * * * *

Imagine the thing that matters most to you in all the world—beautiful, precious, perfect in your eyes. Imagine that you crafted this thing yourself, putting all of your attention, skill, and loving care into every detail. Imagine holding it in your hands, gazing at it in joy and wonder, and seeing how good it is. Continue reading

Who Is My Family?

On Saturday our community suffered a terrible blow: we lost a beautiful, sweet young woman—a daughter, a sister, a friend—in a skiing accident. Bethany was a 2017 graduate and a member of our church’s youth core team. Her younger sister is a close friend of Emma’s, and the friend who was with her at the ski hill is Gabe’s Confirmation sponsor and a good friend of Brendan’s.

Last night the church was home to many families and teens who came to Tuesday evening Mass and stayed for an hour of Adoration afterward, praying for the repose of Bethany’s soul and peace and consolation for her family and friends.

Providentially, the gospel reading was Mark 3:31-35:

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house. Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In his homily, Fr. Richards spoke of the joys of family life—”Your family knows you…you can be yourself.”—and emphasized that, by word and deed, Jesus made all of His followers a spiritual family. Nowhere was that more evident than in the hour following Mass. Teens and children, adults young and old, prayed and praised God, wept and worried, laughed and lingered long after the Blessed Sacrament was reposed. In my mind’s eye, I saw Bethany smiling. Continue reading