Suffering For, Suffering With

It’s Independence Day: a time to celebrate life and liberty in these United States. We are blessed, even in these strange days, with much of the country under some form of quarantine, protests in our streets and ugly politics blaring from every screen and speaker. God continues to guide us with His providence, though we cannot see His ends.

One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is her defense of meaning. For example, not everyone distinguishes between liberty—freedom to do the good—and license—freedom to do whatever you want. That’s an important distinction with real outcomes for society: A culture that espouses liberty believes in good and evil, and facilitates the good—but a culture that embraces license ultimately finds no common ground, no good to support—so what happens when what I want conflicts with what you want? Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Belong. Believe. Behave.

This piece was published in the May 24 edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.  At the time, I thought it resonated with our typical approach to welcoming people into our church, but a week and a half later, I challenge myself and everyone else to read and reflect on it in light of the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath.

People need a place to belong. They want a reason to believe.

* * * * *

Two weekends ago, Fr. Richards preached a homily that has not left me. Over the years, he has talked often about the need for hospitality in our parish—and more recently, he has urged us to move beyond welcoming to actively inviting people into relationship: with ourselves, with Christ and with the Church.

This time Father presented a simple model of how to do this—or more precisely, how we often do it wrong. The model was summarized in three short words: Belong. Believe. Behave.

People are looking for a place to belong. We are made for love and community—without it, we can’t step forward in trust toward belief. And if someone does not believe—specifically, if someone does not believe in a God who loves us and has a plan for us—why would they ever behave? How can they receive a love they cannot see? Why would they follow a God they do not know? Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Another Step on the Road Home

My bride and I met while working at Wall Drug, on the edge of the Badlands in South Dakota. I was selling boots and moccasins that summer; she was selling hats and western wear. The day she started at the store, I had been working about a week. Her supervisor had gone to Mass (“On a weekday?” I thought.) and asked me to keep an eye on things and show the new girl how to run the register when she arrived.

So I did. It wasn’t long before I wanted to spend all my time with her, even accompanying her to Mass, which I hadn’t gone to in years—and when I went back to Yale in the fall, I missed her.

I had a job for the School of Music’s Concert Office that took me all over campus and several classes at the far end of Hillhouse Avenue, so multiple times a week (sometimes several times a day), I walked past St. Mary’s on Hillhouse (good photos). Sometimes I would see sandaled and habited Dominicans greeting students as we passed by, and I loved the tall stone steeples, which, unlike the numeorus other gothic structures on campus, announced the presence of the divine. When the I finally (inevitably) decided to go to church and pray for (at least daydream about) the girl I hoped to marry, those gray steeples and thick wooden doors were the ones that welcomed me home, if only as a heathen dabbler at the time.

Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Simple Act of Mercy

Five minutes ago, my smart phone buzzed to say a new text message had arrived. This is a fairly frequent occurrence on weekdays, but this was no ordinary text:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020 12:22 PM

Archiocese SPM – Anointing: Please now pray one Our Father for someone suffering from COVID-19 who is about to be anointed in our Archdiocese; one Hail Mary for comfort for the patient’s family; and one Glory Be in thanksgiving for and in protection of the priest and the medical team ministering to the person. Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us! St. Roche, pray for us!

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has set up two text-based prayer groups that anyone can sign up for: The first sends out a message whenever a priest in the archdiocese has been sent to give the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to a COVID-19 patient who is seriously ill or facing death; the second sends a message whenever a frontline healthcare worker in the archdiocese has asked for prayer support for their work. Instructions for signing up for these prayer lines can be found on the Archdiocese COVID-19 Prayers webpage.

I signed up to support the Anointing Corps on Friday. Within a couple hours, my phone buzzed, and when I saw the message, I choked up. It is easy—in a third-ring suburb, in a Midwestern state that thus far has not been hit as hard as my homestate of Michigan or either of the coasts—to get frustrated with not being able to do what we want, when we want, and to forget that somewhere not far from here, this virus is stealing a life.

I wiped my eyes and prayed.

I have received seven more texts since then—including two overnight last night and the one from the top of this post. That’s not so many, perhaps, but it’s enough to keep me aware of the need for God’s love and mercy for those most affected. And what simpler way to be an instrument of that mercy? In less that two minutes, we can lift an entire family and team of caregivers in real time.

It’s humbling. God does not need our help in His saving work, and honestly, often we fumble in our attempts. But like a good and patient Father, He wants us near, learning and growing in our half-hearted attempts to be like Him.

‘Go Forth, the Mass Is Ended’

The placement of St. Peter and St. Paul in the dome is one of my favorite details in our church’s artwork. As we approach the altar from the center aisle, St. Peter is above us—the apostle who first declared Jesus to be the Messiah—reminding us of Whom we are receiving. At the end of Mass, as we exit up the center aisle, St. Paul is front and center above us—the great missionary apostle who took the Word of God out into the world, reminding us of our own mission to invite people into relationship with Jesus and His Church. Continue reading