Easter Greetings from the Thorp Gang

Holy Saturday

“Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” – John 20:29

How dark a Sabbath dawned the day after Jesus’s crucifixion: the so-called savior dead and in the ground; his disciples scattered, and the Passover at hand—a remembrance of freedom for God’s chosen people, once again marked under Roman rule.

Our Holy Saturday is not so dark, for although we did not walk with the living Lord or see His risen self, we know the story and believe what we have heard—that fear-filled seventh day was followed by an eighth, a day of resurrection and re-creation. A day of joy and wonder.

So we rise this Holy Saturday, not with trepidation, but anticipation. We rise to the same hell-bent, broken world the apostles did, still filled with pride and pain and broken people; we look with wonder this morning at four inches of fresh snow fallen silently over night and rejoice that God has seen fit to grace us with another day, another hour, another breath.

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Brendan is spending the Easter Triduum in the Eternal City. He is in Rome this semester and has visited Ravenna, Assisi, and Venice, as well as Ireland, Bulgaria, Greece, and France. He will spend next week (his spring break) in Poland and the Ukraine, and will be home at the end of April to work and save for one more year at the University of Mary. God willing, he will graduate next spring, a year early.

Gabe is winding down his senior year at St. Michael-Albertville High School, still discerning his future.  He has been accepted to Thomas Aquinas College, which he visited last summer for their Great Books program, and UMary. He has also applied to NET Ministries, in which he would spend next year traveling the country with a team of other young adults, leading retreats and other events in order to evangelize Catholic teens. He expects to learn whether he has been accepted as a NET missionary in early May.

Emma turned 16 yesterday—since it was Good Friday, we celebrated with presents but without cake. She finishes her sophomore year of high school this spring and will get her driver’s license this summer. (A nerve-wracking car accident early in the winter slowed our lessons a bit.) She still bakes, sings, and plays the flute; still avoids compliments and hugs (except from her closest friends), and still plans to go to UMary in 2020.

Trevor is nearly a high-schooler now, lean framed and long haired, with a questioning mind and a gift for music:  strings, keys, voice, and percussion. He is a drummer in no less than six groups: 8th-Grade Band, Middle School Percussion Ensemble, this summer’s High School Drum Corps, two rock bands (his and Bren’s), and a praise and worship group at our church. Our youngest son will be confirmed this spring and is also discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood.

Little Lily is wrapping up her kindergarten year already. Dark-eyed and quick-witted, she loves to read, to do arts and crafts, and to dress in her own feminine and funky style.  She loves Jodi, tolerates me, and adores her “cute little dog Bruno,” whom she orders around and addresses with baby-talk despite the fact that he’s bigger than she is. Much to Jodi’s chagrin, she loves being licked by him and presents her bare arms to a tongue-lashing multiple times a day.

Bruno is soft-eyed and hard-toothed; all male, all Airedale, and all of eight months old. He is a lunatic, and we love him.

Jodi continues to do good work for the same company in Maple Grove and continues to grace our family every moment with her selflessness, her faithfulness, and her peace. She has time for everyone but herself, and she deserves better love than I can give her. But she stays with me, convinced (I suppose) that I can be taught and one day I’ll make a man, or at least a living. I am blessed to have her with me.

And she may be right, you know. In the past year I left a job I loved at our home parish to answer a call to write and evangelize; I wound up unemployed, then sorting packages for FedEx in the wee hours of the morning, before landing at another local parish doing what I set out to do. As is typical, I saw this as a sign and ran with it, convinced I knew God’s plan and could carry it off on my own. A few months later, my new employers lost their faith formation director and asked me to consider taking on the role, at least for a time.  I said I would pray on it, confident the answer would be no. Ten minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the answer came: Why do you think I put you there?

I am insecure and impractical; bull-headed, soft-hearted, romantic, and rash. But I can be taught, and I believe I will make a man (and even a living) one day. God works, not just in broad strokes, but in the details of our lives. He put us exactly where He wants us, day by day, and if we are open to him, we cannot help but succeed, because He wills only the best for us. He cannot will anything else or anything less, because it’s His very nature. He loves us, because He is love.

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In the end, that’s the only thing that makes the world bearable. He is the reason we rise, this morning and every morning, to begin again.

Vigil

We search for signs. Signals too dim to light our way stop us dead. We wait—for what? An invitation is ours each day; each moment we are born again, to do more good. To do better. God is God the Everpresent:  He leaves not—each dawn an Easter; each day a rebirth

Happy Easter, dear ones. Know our thoughts and prayers are with you even when we, ourselves, are not. We love you.

Always,

Jim and Jodi

Brendan, Gabe, Emma, Trevor, and Lily

Chains of Memory

The past couple of days I’ve been plagued by memories: guilty recollections of past sins, glimpses of images I never should have seen, bits of off-color or debauched “humor,” lyrics to songs that should not be sung.

Beginning in college, this was my rebellion. I looked at, listened to, and watched whatever I wanted. And in short order, I proved the adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” During much of my college years, I swore like a sailor; I told dirty jokes to old friends and new acquaintances, and I made excuses for my behavior—to others and to myself.

“It could be worse,” I said, and I knew I was right. I had a vivid imagination, and worse played out in my mind if I lingered too long on any impure thing.

Thanks be to God, over the first ten year of my marriage to Jodi, I weeded these things out of my life. Little by little I dropped the jokes, kicked my swearing habit, left porn behind, stopped watching racy movies, and cleaned up my taste in music. And beginning with one no-nonsense confession with Fr. Siebenaler, in which he politely but firmly questioned my resolve to actually amend my life and advised me to open myself to Jodi and ask for her help, I left off making excuses, and began instead to apologize.

So here we are, more than a decade later, and the Enemy is at work again: I find myself mindlessly mouthing the music in my head, only to realize it’s some obscene gangster rap fantasy or metal mayhem I laughed at as a younger man. In my mind’s eye I see images I haven’t looked upon in years, like a sin scrapbook I can’t help but leaf through, gazing at memories best forgotten.

That’s the first point of this ramble: you can’t forget. What your brain takes in is filed away for later reference. Every image, every word, is there, tying you to past experience. And those things you subject yourself to again and again, out of desire or habit? Your mind naturally assumes they are important, forging shorter, stronger connections so they can be easily accessed.

I can’t recall yesterday’s discussion with my bride, but I remember every detail of my past sins, with a clarity that repels the spirit and tempts the flesh anew. The Accuser seeks to set me against myself—but I know now I must seek every day, every moment, to purify both body and soul.

That’s the second point: The struggle against sin is noble and never-ending, to be sure, but all struggles are not created equal. The struggle of the rabbit in the snare speeds its demise; it kicks and thrashes against the noose, which only tightens against its efforts.

That was me, in the confessional all those years ago—declaring sorrow for my sins but unwilling to even attempt to remove my head from the strangling wire. The death brought about by sin cannot be escaped by panic, emotionalism, or bodily struggle. It is a spiritual struggle, requiring prayer, persistence, and genuine love of neighbor and of self. At some point, all the plans, safeguards, and accountability measures boil down to a decision: Am I going to stop doing these things or not?

How does one become a saint? Will it.

Finally, the third point: We don’t have to remain bound in these chains of memory, because God’s love is mercy.

This is not the first time I’ve struggled with recalling past sins and feeling old remorse and new temptation. The last time I remember it as strongly as this, our pastor, Fr. Richards, advised that I repeat the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

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At the time he told me this, it didn’t click with me that these are the words of the inscription at the bottom of St. Faustina’s image of Divine Mercy. (“Jezu ufam tobie” in the original Polish, above.)

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust in your mercy. I trust that you have forgiven these past, confessed sins. I trust that you continue to forgive me. I trust that you love me.

We are washed clean in the blood and water that flow from His Sacred Heart. We need not linger in darkness or doubt. He loves us. He forgives us. He saves.

We’ll Always Have Poland

Poland Family

Last Sunday we were blessed to host a party of sorts. What started as my attempt repay the “Poland daughters” who took me out to dinner for my birthday last fall  turned into a mini-World Youth Day reunion, with many of the teens and a couple of the adults from our trip to Krakow a year ago.

We visited, prayed together, and shared a meal: grilled kielbasa and pierogies, pasta and sauce and salad, cookies and root beer floats. We shared our favorite memories and laughed and laughed. We talked about future plans—many of my Poland daughters are starting college this year. And I think we all longed to go back to visit the Motherland.

The next morning I thought I should re-share the post I wrote after the pilgrimage—only to realize I never wrote a recap. I thought about doing a standard Top-10 list, but no matter how I counted or grouped things together, I had too much to share.

So I’ll keep this to three moments that stand out to me above the others. Continue reading

The Great Improviser, or One Blesséd Thing After Another…

I remember watching an improv comedy group with friends in college. Each member of the troupe was a whirlwind of wit and creativity, responding instantly to audience suggestions, random props, and fellow comics’ off-the-cuff reactions.

After more than an hour of nonstop hilarity and laughter, the group took its bows, then the members spoke briefly to the audience about how they do what they do: How they keep the laughs coming at such a breakneck pace when even they aren’t sure what will happen next?

The basic answer was so simple: Say yes, and

Whatever the situation, the idea, the inane detail added by the last castmate as he passes the scene to you, say yes, and build on it. Anything else — a no, a but, a hesitation, a rejection — derails everything. The joy of improv (for both performers and audience, I’ll wager) is in the way that it embraces the unknown and absurd and builds on them, laugh upon laugh, until the entire humorous edifice is revealed and the leader says, “Aaaaand scene!”

Say yes, and build on it. Embrace the situation and move forward. Such a simple trick — but it requires practice. (If you don’t believe me, get two friends and try Three-Headed Broadway Singer.)

It strikes me today that this is good advice for life, as well. This world is tilted, spinning, ridiculous in so many ways, and at times life appears to be, as an old saying goes, “one damned thing after another.” But it’s not. The sequence of events is not damned, but blessed.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28

God, in fact, must be the Great Improviser, to work out  His plan among so many free-willing, fallen creatures who are constantly doing the dead-wrong thing. God’s providence, it seems to me, must be a resounding, eternal, “Yes, and…”

Fr. Mike Schmitz shares great perspective on discerning God’s will for us, in which he reminds us that, even in scripture, when God’s appears to be taking His people by the hands and leading them, still less is known than unknown. In particular, he reminds us that, after being told by the angel Gabriel that she will bear the Son of God, Mary says “Be it done unto me according to your word,” and the very next line in scripture is, “Then the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:28).

Mary is left to improvise: to build upon that yes and each yes after, until the entire astounding edifice is revealed and the Master calls out, “Scene!”

Like Mary, we don’t know what’s coming: what incredible, impossible, unwieldy, absurd situation we may encounter, this moment or the next. But our response matters. In fact — since the universe is beyond our control — our response is all that counts.

It’s so simple, though it takes practice: Step with joy into the unknown. Say yes, and build upon it.

Lost Howls of Youth


Now it seems like too much love is never enough/You better seek out another road/’Cuz this one has ended abrupt — Temple of the Dog, “Say Hello 2 Heaven”

I woke this morning to a text from an old friend that Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell had died. A short while later I saw another friend had tagged me in a post on Facebook: it occurred after Soundgarden’s apparently triumphant return to Detroit last night, and the early speculation is suicide. He was 52.

I don’t generally go in for the extended mourning of celebrities. They are just folk, like we are: pray for their souls, and for peace and consolation for their families. Then again, sometimes a song, an image, a voice is so tied to a particular period in one’s life that there is no escaping the impact. Chris Cornell’s voice was the howl of my youth — the closest thing to a rebel yell I ever sounded in my relatively serious and square teens and twenties. His bands — especially Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog — were a part of me in my younger days. Continue reading