Last weekend, we saw all of our children and grandchildren, not to mention my mother and several friends, due to our youngest son Trevor’s star turns as St. Thomas More in the play, A Man for All Seasons. We had representatives of four generations of Thorps under our roof. We saw moving performances, illustrating a 500-year-old life that remains compelling and relevant today. We celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday and the May Crowning of Mary and Mother’s Day at the 9:00 AM Mass, with Father Park and Bishop Williams and two deacons. We received Jesus in Word and Sacrament—and my mom benefitted deeply from 10 minutes with two of our parish’s wonderful prayer ministers after Mass. We ate and drank and made merry. It was a both-and kind of weekend, a time of spiritual superabundance.
Early Monday morning, after Mom departed for the airport, I read the daily gospel reading, which continues St. John’s Good Shepherd discourse. The last line of the reading struck me hardest:
“A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
I recognize the thief and his works—I see them daily in the world—and I know that, at times like last weekend, we are experiencing God’s abundant life firsthand. The Enemy divides, distorts, and destroys; he is wreaking havoc in the world right now. But Jesus brings hope, courage, joy, and peace—not to mention the perseverance to live in the Spirit despite the Enemy and those who serve him.
On Ash Wednesday this year, Archbishop Hebda visited our parish and school and presided over the school Mass. During his homily, he asked the school children to give examples of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One boy suggested that you could fast from lights, “like, with an oil lamp or something.”
Archbishop chuckled and said he had never thought of that before. But I have.
Years ago, I ran across an article by Catholic convert, blogger, and speaker Jennifer Fulwiler entitled “8 Reasons to Turn Out the Lights During Lent.” Her experience captured my imagination, and I pitched it to my own family and those in faith formation at the time as “Firelight Fridays.”
The premise is simple—no electrical lights or screens of any kind after sundown on Fridays during Lent. The results were profound: we found ourselves congregating as a family around the candlelit kitchen table or living room, playing board games, listening to music, or just talking and laughing together as a family. It a couple hours, we would begin to feel snoozy; eventually we would, by common consensus, snuff the candles and go to bed early, sleep soundly, and rise refreshed on Saturday morning.
Two summers ago, Jodi and I and our youngest daughter Lily arrived at a New Family Social at St. Michael Catholic School (StMCS) to learn the ropes at a new school. We’ve been members of this parish for nearly 20 years now, and I’ve been on staff in two different roles—but when our oldest son, Brendan, was heading to kindergarten, we never made it off the waiting list for StMCS. We wound up enrolling him at Albertville Primary, and we never looked back.
We are blessed with great schools in this community, including some of the most faith-friendly public schools around. But when COVID derailed our older daughter Emma’s senior year and graduation, cancelled our youngest son Trevor’s theater performance of The Three Musketeers, and confined Lily to interacting with her classmates through a Kindle screen, we began to rethink our approach to educating our children. Two things seemed clear to us at the time:
Once the state gets involved in the day-to-day operations of public schools, it seems unlikely that they will pull back very much.
The best chance for Trevor and Lily to have a somewhat normal school experience during the 2020-21 school year would be in a Catholic school.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
[At the time of this writing] I’ve spent the past 10 days quarantined due to a positive COVID test. Aside from one rough evening, I felt pretty good overall—the usual post-holiday fatigue and January congestion. But it doesn’t take much. When sick or injured, I am a pretty poor patient. I never manage to suffer in silence for long, and I tend to put everything on hold until I feel better. The weaker my flesh, the less willing my spirit.
Mark’s gospel shares the account of four friends who bring a paralytic to Jesus. Unable to get close to him on the ground due to the crowds, they climb to the roof, open up the thatching, and lower the paralyzed man on his mat before Jesus. The Lord sees the man in his plight. He sees the great faith of the man’s friends. So what does He do?
Jesus forgives the paralyzed man’s sins.
Think about that for a moment. From the crowd’s point of view: They have gathered around Jesus with great expectations. They are listening to His teachings, but they have heard He is a wonderworker. No doubt they were holding their breath in expectation of a miracle for the paralyzed man. From the standpoint of the four friends: Can there be any doubt that their hope for their friend was physical healing? And from the paralytic’s point of view: Even if he was a devout man, I’ll bet there was a twinge of disappointment when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” rather than, “Rise and walk.”
This post appeared as a column in the January 16 bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church. It was written during the cold snap the week before.
As I write this morning, it’s -24 outdoors. That people work outdoors in this weather—expanding our church facilities, for example—is amazing. That people sleep and starve outdoors in this weather while I sit comfortably typing away is tragic and humbling.
The daily readings for the week after Epiphany focus on the love of God, in concept (Saint John’s first letter, explaining that God is love, and all that implies) and in deed (examples of Jesus’ teaching, feeding, healing, and other miracles from Saints Mark and Luke.
The gospel for January 5 was Mark’s story of the feeding of the 5,000, followed by Jesus walking on water and calming the sea. Once Jesus joins His disciples in the boat, Mark ends with this:
They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.
My first thought reading this was, “What’s not to understand? How could Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000-plus people harden the hearts of His followers?”