You Gotta Want It

This post appeared as a column in the May 23, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin. It is modified from a Wednesday Witness blog post written for Saint Andrew Catholic Church.

A few years back I spoke with a teenage girl who said she wasn’t sure she wanted to be confirmed because it didn’t seem relevant to her future success. Her mind was on her grades and test scores, a degree and a career. She had things to do, and from where she sat, God’s gifts seemed quaint and His will, irrelevant.

But we are created for more than economics. We are made for love, and the sacraments give us the graces to love as God loves. Through the three sacraments of initiation—Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation—we are welcomed into God’s family as His children; we receive the gifts, graces and fruits of the Holy Spirit; and we receive Jesus Himself so that we can become more like Him.

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Baby, Brother

Nearly a month ago now, on October 6, our eldest son and his bride welcomed their first child into the world. The birth of a child is an everyday occurrence; all across the globe, fathers fret as mothers labor to bring wriggling, helpless, little humans into this world, as we have for thousands of years. Medicine and technology have improved to the point that many—even the majority—of these children survive past infancy and on to adulthood, so that sometimes we forget how miraculous this is. Sometimes fathers and mothers even think they are primarily responsible for creating the new life they hold in their arms.

They are not.

Biologically speaking, we parents are certainly involved in the earthier aspects of the miracle, and in our better moments, we may even desire, will and proactively seek to bring a child into the world. But no amount of wishing or willing can create a child or bring him or her to term. God does the hard work and invites us along for the ride. So it was for Jodi and me, when we welcomed each of our five children into the world—and in another, profound way, when we lost our little Jude. And so it is for Brendan and Becky.

His name is Augustine James Thorp.* I’m a dziadzi.**

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A Man of Many Mothers

I am blessed to have so many wonderful mothers in my life, and on this day, it is my joy and honor to lift up many of them to God to receive His blessing. Happy Mother’s Day!

To Sharon, my mom and busia to my children: God bless you for your love and affection for me (I was and am a boy who needs it!), for the great gift of baptism into God’s family, for your faithful example of marriage and motherhood as we started our own family, and for your constant support and prayers for our family. I love you.

To Jodi, my bride and mother of my children: I would not be any sort of man, husband or father, without your constant love and mercy. God bless you for always making time for others, for your steadfast and peaceful spirit in the face of my sudden emotions, for seeing me as God does and loving me while I was stuck in sin, and for making me a father six times over (five here and one in heaven). I love you.

To Becky, the bride of my eldest son and expectant mother of our grandchild: You are a beacon, dear daughter-in-law, and a source of strength and blessing for Brendan and our entire family. God bless you for your deep love of Christ, your yes to marriage and motherhood, your joy in your vocation, even during these challenging times—and for the new life in your womb. I love you. Continue reading

Book Break: The Seven Storey Mountain

MertonAutobioCoverLast night I finished Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, which Venerable Fulton Sheen described as “a Twentieth Century form of the Confessions of St. Augustine” and which has entered my list of favorite books, perhaps in the top ten. Unlike some religious autobiographies written under inspiration or strictly under obedience, The Seven Storey Mountain is written by a writer, a craftsman and a poet. It is beautiful—honest and heartbreaking, profound and inspiring. It also provides a window into “enlightened” American culture between the world wars, providing a strong and particularly Catholic rationale as to how we got to this point.

Merton’s answer? In a word, sin. His, mine and yours. Continue reading

Called to Another Country

“The land you are to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come…” – Deuteronomy 11:10

I am reading The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a broken and sinful young man who grew up between the World Wars, converted to Catholicism in his 20s, and ultimately became a Trappist monk and priest. Merton is complicated, and his later writings indicate a potentially dangerous attraction to Buddhism. But externally, at least, he never left the priesthood or his order, and his conversion story is a profound and thought-provoking read.

Merton regrets that he did not have the sense to embrace the life of grace the Lord was providing on the day he joined the Catholic Church. Following his baptism and first Holy Communion, he returned to the life he led before—as an aspiring intellectual and writer—except with a few spiritual practices added to the mix: He attended Mass on the weekends and sometimes during the week, went to Confession more than once a month, and engaged in spiritual reading on a fairly regular basis.

To my eyes, that list reads like the makings of a strong disciple. Merton saw it differently: “A man who has just come out of the hospital, having nearly died there, and having been cut to pieces on the operating table, cannot immediately begin to lead the life of the ordinary working man. And after the spiritual mangle I have gone through, it will never be possible for me to do without the sacraments daily, and without much prayer and penance and meditation and mortification.” Continue reading