Wholly Self-Centered

Blogger’s Note: It’s been awhile. We’ve had an eventful holiday season—I’ll catch you up soon! In the meantime, here’s a short reflection from this weekend.

I have long experience at being self-centered. Those who know me know that I am both self-critical and self-righteous, quick-tempered, easily disillusioned, and a bit of a navel-gazer. I fight against these tendencies, fail frequently, and because I know too well my own selfish tendencies, I see (or imagine) my failings in those I love.

I’m a peach; just ask my family.

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Forty-Third Birthday, Extended and Remixed

I am still a such a kid when it comes to birthdays. I still love the food and fun, the off-key singing, the warmth and glow and light and presents. Yes, I know that material wealth does not avail, but I love receiving (and giving) gifts. I can’t help it.

At the same time, birthdays are also a bit melancholy. As each year passes, I find myself reflecting on those things I have not yet done, and the speed with which time seems to pass these days. That mix of joy and anticipation with reflection and blues often leaves me quiet, recollected, and prayerful—which, in the end, is not a bad place to be.

Nevertheless, when my 43rd birthday rolled around on Friday, I struggled a bit. Jodi and I worked during the day, which is not unusual, but Gabe needed to work late afternoon through early evening. In addition, a couple of conversations with my bride (one somewhat veiled, one not so much) led me to believe that she was struggling to come up with a gift of any sort, much less the one she hoped to purchase. It was shaping up to be a subdued celebration.

So when Emma was offered a babysitting gig for Friday evening, I sighed and surrendered. We would celebrate Saturday, gift or no gift.

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From Conception

This was my first morning in the Adoration Chapel at my new hour, Saturdays at 5 a.m. It was as I hoped: a beautiful way to regroup—to end a week, start the weekend, and consecrate the days ahead to God.

While praying the Rosary, a thought struck me that hadn’t before. I was praying the Third Joyful Mystery—the Incarnation and Nativity of Jesus is how I spontaneously phrased it this morning—and it occurred to me in that moment that Jesus, at His conception, was an embryo, was He not? Perhaps not a zygote, which is specifically a fertilized egg; that is part of the great mystery of Mary’s virgin pregnancy. But an embryo, surely.

We often reflect on God’s great love and humility, that He would willingly condescend to become, not just a man, but a vulnerable, wriggling infant. But more astounding than that, He became what’s today’s culture wants to call “tissue,” a tiny cluster of cells like those pictured above, alive and human, but utterly helpless without Our Blessed Mother’s bodily protection and sustenance. Continue reading

We’ll Always Have Poland

Poland Family

Last Sunday we were blessed to host a party of sorts. What started as my attempt repay the “Poland daughters” who took me out to dinner for my birthday last fall  turned into a mini-World Youth Day reunion, with many of the teens and a couple of the adults from our trip to Krakow a year ago.

We visited, prayed together, and shared a meal: grilled kielbasa and pierogies, pasta and sauce and salad, cookies and root beer floats. We shared our favorite memories and laughed and laughed. We talked about future plans—many of my Poland daughters are starting college this year. And I think we all longed to go back to visit the Motherland.

The next morning I thought I should re-share the post I wrote after the pilgrimage—only to realize I never wrote a recap. I thought about doing a standard Top-10 list, but no matter how I counted or grouped things together, I had too much to share.

So I’ll keep this to three moments that stand out to me above the others. Continue reading

Be the Bedrock

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. – Matthew 7:24-25

A few weeks ago, my daughter Emma shared a beautiful encounter she had during Adoration at Extreme Faith Camp. While praying with her eyes closed, she saw a young girl not unlike our younger daughter Lily, and received the distinct impression that this was Jude, the baby we miscarried before Lily was born. At first she felt sad, reflecting on how she never knew her other sister—until she heard words of consolation from our Lord. After those words, she even invited Jude to sit in her lap, and felt her sister close to her.

Emma used this experience as an opportunity to witness to others: “I guess that what I’m trying to tell you from sharing this story is that the Lord is truly in the Eucharist and he is there to show you amazing things and bring you closer to him. Don’t doubt for a minute that he isn’t truly present because he is. He loves you and wants to have a relationship with you so you can have the amazing life he has planned for you. Also, remember that your loved ones you have lost love you and are praying for you so that you can join them one day in God’s kingdom.”
Experiences like these move me deeply, because I didn’t grow up this way. My children are learning at an early age that Jesus is really present in the Blessed Sacrament, that the Holy Spirit moves in their lives, and that God has a plan for their happiness, both here and in eternity. I am an old dog, struggling to learn tricks my pups have already begun to master.
I mentioned this to my confessor last week. “We’ve done the best we can for them,” I said, “but activities like Extreme Faith Camp and Core Team have changed their lives. They are experiencing things that I never have!”
“You know how this works, right?” he said. “The reason they are able to reach higher than you is because they are standing on your shoulders. You have given them stability—a firm foundation to stand on. So often we hear people say they just want their kids to have what they didn’t have. … But you are actually doing it. You are giving them spiritual gifts.”
So many of us want to provide our children with a better life, so we focus on material things, like money, toys, gadgets, or cars; or on opportunities, like extracurricular activities and camps; travel, food, and recreation.  These are not bad things, necessarily, but when we consider all of eternity, we realize we are focused on the wrong kind of better. As St. John reminds us, “the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:17).
What is truly good is not of this world at all. By doing as Christ Himself instructed—by loving God, neighbor, and enemy; by leading lives of prayer and striving for holiness; by sharing the Good News that Jesus is Lord and Savior—we can be bedrock for our children: the solid ground upon which they plant their feet and lift their hearts to heaven.