A few years back I was blessed to participate in the Catechetical Institute (Class of Padre Pio) at Saint Andrew Catholic Church in Elk River. I expected it to be a great learning experience: a deep dive into the what and why of Catholic teachings. I did not expect it to be as convicting, converting, and hopeful an experience as it was.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is a systematic overview of the Catholic faith with lots of references to sacred scripture, saints’ writings, and other Church documents that flesh out the teachings in more detail. But the overall theme of the book—and the foundation of all Church wisdom and teaching—is God’s plan of salvation, culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of the great mysteries of that plan, emphasized again and again throughout the institute, is the sense of already, but not yet:
It is a strange and beautiful gift to watch your children grow, mature, and start lives and families of their own. Not everyone receives this gift: some lose children before adulthood, some children never grow up, and some grow to pursue paths we would not choose and dare not watch. But—praise God!—thus far our children have surprised us only in good and Godly ways, rebelling only superficially and never for long.
My bride and I take no credit for this, aside from these two decisions: We continue to prioritize our own faith and marriage (our relationships with God and each other), and we continue to work on giving our sons and daughters back to God (to Whom they belong, after all).
Even those decisions we do not live perfectly, which again points to God as the guiding hand that leads each of them home again, not to us, but to Him!
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Jodi and I were blessed to spend both Christmas and New Year’s weekends with all of our children and grandchildren. The Thorp Family Christmas came to Bismarck; we stayed in Brendan and Becky’s house with their friends and renters Ethan and Mia, and celebrated in North Hall at the University of Mary, where both Brendan and Becky work. Their North Hall apartment would be entirely too small for everyone, but as the freshman men were all home for the holidays, we made use of two common rooms, including a kitchen with dual ovens, to visit, eat, and celebrate.
Santa found us there and supplied us well with gifts and treats; Ethan and Mia joined us for meals; and we enjoyed Christmas and Holy Family Masses at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. Aside from the mysterious disappearance of Jodi’s purse (which has not been located, though no cards have been used), it was a truly blessed weekend.
We brought Emma back home with us from Bismarck, a challenge since 10 minutes before we left for North Dakota, our loaded Suburban died, necessitating a switch to the much smaller minivan, but we made it work. For the week between Christmas and New Year’s, both Gabe and Emma were home with Jodi, Trevor, Lily, and me (and Bruno the Airedale, of course). Then, late on the 30th, Brendan and family rejoined us in Minnesota, as Becky was videographer for a New Year’s Eve wedding in our area. We ate too much, played many games, tried some new drinks, and generally made merry.
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The careful reader may have noticed the word “grandchildren” in paragraph four. This is not a typo, though only Augustine was prowling the corridors of North Hall in Bismarck or gazing starstruck at our tree and Nativity in Albertville. Our second grandchild keeps a lower profile thus far, but should make his or her debut in early July!
The timing is providential, enabling us to meet the newest Thorp just prior to Brendan, Becky, and family’s big move to Rome in August. Our eldest has been hired to lead the University of Mary’s Rome program, and he and his bride will likely spend the majority of the next three years living, working, and raising their family in the Eternal City. What faith, history, art, and architecture couldn’t achieve, Nature will: Jodi and I will be going to Rome at last, if only to eat gelato with our grandkids!
These two—Brendan and Becky—are the most intentional spouses and parents I have ever witnessed. Patient, consistent, and collaborative, they know what they are about and how they want to raise their children. At times I shake my head in admiration, at times in disbelief, but I have so much respect for their first two years of married living. And we love them fiercely.
He says he feels called to life in religious community. He feels called to poverty you can see and feel. And he wants to draw people to Jesus.
This is not “good parenting”…it’s surrender. We pray for God’s will, and this is clearly God’s work. Whether Gabe ever takes perpetual vows and a new name or not, we are blessed to watch, and learn from, him. We love him.
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Emma is with us through the end of the week. Three semesters in at the University of Mary, she has switched majors from Business to Social Work to Philosophy, joined the Honors Program, and rolled her Catholic Studies minor into a second major. She did not go the Rome this fall due to uncertainty around COVID restrictions, and now that she will have family there, she seem more inclined to travel there on her own instead of with the university. She is working as a RA this semester and is surrounded by solid friends who make her laugh and absorb her caustic wit with relative ease.
What does the future hold? She can’t say: at lunch today she mentioned middle-school youth ministry, missionary work, teaching—but only in answer to my leading questions. She is like Brendan in so many ways, but like Gabe in this: She will tell us when she feels relatively certain and not before.
We love her and can’t wait to see who she will become!
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Trevor is a senior this year, just one semester away from graduation. He continues to thrive at Holy Spirit Academy, pushing himself academically and artistically, and this past summer, travelled alone to California to participate in the Great Books Summer Program at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC). Like his brothers before him, TAC is on his short list of colleges for next year, along with UMary—but this Saturday, Father Blume, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, is coming to talk with him about Saint John Vianney College Seminary (SJV). Trevor has already been accepted to the University of St. Thomas, where SJV is located. A big decision is coming!
In the meantime, Trev works for Heil Taxidermy, like his brothers, and as a math tutor for Mathnasium—and is a Core Team stalwart for our church’s Youth Ministry team, helping to lead middle-school events. He stays a little too busy at times, but he’s learning what he can handle, an essential skill for college, work, or priesthood.
Whatever the call, whatever the decision, we love him.
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Earlier this month, our youngest reached double-digits! Lily is in fourth grade this year and likes to stay busy. Crafts, baking, reading, sports, Legos, dolls, games, art, music, you name it; she enjoys a little bit of everything. This year she joined the Lego League robotics team at St. Michael Catholic School, but tested positive for COVID the week before and missed the competition. (Her team took fourth.) She has lots of friends of both genders, but spends more time with the boys because “the girls just stand around and talk; they don’t do anything fun.”
This February she is looking forward to a trip to Florida with Jodi and me to visit some dear friends; they will spoil her unapologetically while my bride and I take a belated anniversary drive to the Keys for a couple days.
She deserves it. We love her.
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That leaves us. Twenty-five years of marriage have passed in a blink. You might think we should be better at this, and you’d be right—but we couldn’t be more blessed. We are employed and healthy. We looked into diaconate together and discerned instead to invest, for the time being, in our marriage and in my writing, which is beginning to make a difference in the world. It’s funny: The first time I tried to make a living writing for the Church, I wound up unemployed and almost broke. This time, I haven’t worried about paying bills, only trying to serve, and the money is there when we need it.
And Jodi continues to amaze. It is true that men and women are different creatures, but this woman is so specifically different that I must unlearn everything I know about me to understand her. I assume she is mad, or sad, or irritated, because I would be if I were in her shoes, and there she is, at peace, wondering what the fuss is about. My short-temperedness she shrugs off, assuming I’m doing the best I can.
I love her so.
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That’s the latest from the Minnesota Thorps. Wishing the happiest of Christmases and a blessed New Year. Know that our thoughts and prayers are with you even when we are not. We love you, too.
I have a story in my head, of an old shepherd minding the camp while the younger men take the herds out to graze. At first I thought to tell the whole story in verse, but that proved to be too much. Then I began to write the story, with little bits of verse by the old shepherd, interspersed throughout. That also proved too much to finish by today. But the bits of verse hung together fairly well, so I polished them up a bit this morning. The story will come as I have time.
The Shepherd’s Rhyme
by Jim Thorp
O fallen are the souls of men and death the sinner’s doom
And who but you, O Lord of all, can make the desert bloom?
And who but you, O Lord of hosts, can split a winter’s night
To flood the weary world below with wonder, warmth, and light?
The heart, a stony seed within; a man, the dusty ground
And who but you, Creator blest, can make new life abound?
And who but you, O Lord above, our sunshine and our rain,
Can soak and swell a shrivelled soul and make it sprout again?
The crocus blooms, the rocks rejoice, the dry rills run with water
The heavens ring: A king! A king! is born to virgin daughter!
It has come to my attention recently that many of the movies I take time to write about I hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend. Sometimes I see a new take on my favorite old stories and genres: westerns and martial arts; sci-fi and time travel; fantasy and fractured fairy tales. They may be thought-provoking, but somewhat strange; often they are objectionable in some way that makes me guard against a full endorsement.
Last fall I caught wind of an upcoming movie called Fatman, featuring Mel Gibson as a world-weary Santa with a price on his head. You may know that I am a big fan of the Man in Red in almost any interation, from the saintly Bishop of Myra to Father Christmas in Narnia to the Right Jolly Old Elf of my own childhood traditions. I imagined a foul-mouthed and violent “bad Santa” bent on revenge of some sort, and I was not a fan of the idea. The trailer suggested I wasn’t far from the truth:
But then somewhere along the way I read a review that suggested it might be a bit more than it appeared. I hemmed and hawed until almost Christmas, when my older kids suggested we watch it. So we did. After the initial viewing, I was concerned that I might actually like the movie. I spoke in hushed tones to the few others I knew who had seen it. Many of them kinda liked it too.
Still, I didn’t write about it. Give it a year, I thought, to see if the novelty wears off.
Now for something completely different: I haven’t been writing nearly enough and am way behind on books I’ve read and would like to share. Most of the books I share are fiction, spiritual, or both. Technopoly by Neil Postman is neither.
This book came to me as an unexpected Christmas gift from our son Brendan’s friend Nick, who was his roommate at University of Mary and is now a seminarian for the Diocese of Milwaukee. Brendan has always been a curmudgeon and skeptic regarding technology; Nick, not so much, until he started reading more deeply on the subject. Then, he started spreading the word, including by giving our family a lightly used paperback copy of Technopoly.
One of the concepts that intrigued me as a young anthropology major was the idea that, at a certain point, our ancestors began to compete technologically rather than biologically, meaning that, at a certain point, our ancestors crossed a threshhold and were no longer strictly beholden to their biology to survive—the fittest was not necessarily the fastest or strongest hominid, but may be the cleverest one, with the best tools.