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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‘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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Stretching Toward Heaven

This is my father-of-the-groom speech from Brendan and Becky’s wedding on December 28, 2019. I finally got to see this video (and actually hear what I said) for the first time yesterday, and this is one of my favorite things I’ve “written.”

A little context for what you are about to hear:

  • I had just taken our youngest daughter, who fell asleep during the wedding and was not feeling well, up to my parents’ room in the hotel. The dance had not yet started, and my dad had already turned in for the night. This was a long day for both of them!
  • There was a blizzard this weekend, so many people didn’t make it to the wedding—especially those from out of state, like Grandma and Grandpa Venjohn.
  • Gabe had given his Best Man speech just before this, in which he had joked that he felt loved by his big brother Brendan, even though none of our kids have the capacity to express love. (Our kids are often ribbed for their lack of expressed affection toward each other and their parents.)
  • I had detailed notes in my pocket, but because I was caught off-guard and was thinking about Lily, I never took them out. I had written something like this the day before, while cooking chili for the rehearsal supper in the church kitchen. We had cooked a massive amount of chili at home, then failed to get it cooled quickly for transportation and were worried about giving the entire wedding party and both families food poisoning, so we remade it in Moorhead.

I’m sure that just after this recording cuts out, I said proposed an actual toast. But the speech is what I want to share today, so my dad and Jodi’s folks can finally hear it.

“Things change…”

A Fool for Christ

Note: I am an emotional guy. I am a bit self-conscious about the number of times in my posts I “choke up,” tear up or flat-out cry. But the Psalmist cried a lot, too. Also, this post appears as the bulletin column for this Sunday, January 24, for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

Two Mondays ago, a friend and I discussed God’s desire for simple obedience. As a man who is constantly trying to make sense of things (and who often worries about what others think of me) this has been a long, hard lesson. I often analyze the promptings of the Spirit, worried that I’ll look foolish if I carry them out.

No one likes to be laughed at—but perhaps we should expect it:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 4:10

Later that same day, the Zach Williams song, “Fear Is a Liar” came on. My mind immediately went to my elder daughter, Emma, who is a freshman at the University of Mary in Bismarck.

“Fear Is a Liar (Official Live from Harding Prison” by Zach Williams

That’s not a completely random connection: Emma used to have a quote from that song on the wall of her bedroom: “Cast your fear in the fire, ’cuz fear, he is a liar.” But this wasn’t just a pleasant memory conjured up by song lyrics—I felt a strong urge to pray for her and to tell her I did so. Immediately I lifted Emma and her needs and intentions to Our Lady to bring to Jesus.

That was the easy part. Then I grabbed my phone to text my daughter: “‘Fear is a Liar’ is on, and as soon as it began, I felt moved to pray for you.”

I stopped briefly and thought, Is this weird? I hit Send, and began to type again: “I have asked Mary to intercede for you.”

Again I stopped. I wanted to type, “Do not be afraid,” but I couldn’t. Seriously, I thought, what if she’s having a quiet morning enjoying a late breakfast or hanging out with friends? What if nothing’s going on? How weird is it to have your Dad text, “Do not be afraid” when you’re not worried about anything?

And then, a whisper in my heart: Trust Me.

I typed, “I have asked Mary to intercede for you. Do not be afraid!”

I quickly hit Send. Then I typed and sent, “I love you, daughter,” set down my phone and walked away.

A few minutes later I heard it buzz. I returned to see a message from Emma. My text arrived just after she had delivered a short speech to her speech class, and she had been anxious about it beforehand.

“Thanks dad,” she texted. “I love you too.”

Tear welled in my eyes to think that God was there, in this ordinary moment, when His daughter and mine was worried about so small a thing as a class presentation, that He used me to love her in that moment, and all I had to do was text her.

It’s so easy to share God’s love. What are you worried about?

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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