Wednesday Witness: Scarcity or Abundance?

Originally published on The Net blog on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, September 5, 2018.

One of the other recurring themes during prayer at my silent retreat in Demontreville last month was scarcity versus abundance. This time of year—with summer winding down, school and activities ramping up, days getting noticeably shorter and cooler, and trees suddenly changing color—it’s easy to slip into a mentality of scarcity.

Not enough time.

Not enough money.

Not enough help.

Not enough of me to go around.

Of course, when we are feeling stressed in this way, it is appropriate to turn to God in prayer for help—but when we start with a mentality of scarcity, it is easy to slip into a spirituality of scarcity, in which our prayer is focused on what we lack and forgetful of all that we have. We become anxious about the present, worried about the future, and instead of asking for the peace, patience, wisdom and perseverance to get through the present moment, we beg for relief or escape. Continue reading

The Phantom Cross

A little more than a week ago, we dropped our second son Gabe off at the NET Center in St. Paul to begin training for nine months of drawing young people to Christ as a NET Ministries missionary. Then yesterday we dropped our eldest, Brendan, off for his third and final year at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.

As we sped east on I-94 last night, Jodi reflected that we hadn’t taken a photo of Bren as we dropped him off this year. The first year we took several. Last year I snapped one of Brendan and his roommate Nick for Jodi, since she couldn’t be there when I dropped him off. This time we were both there, and it was clearer than ever that our adult son has another beautiful life, mostly hidden from us. This was revealed during a brief stop  at his girlfriend Becky’s home in Moorehead for introductions and delicious, homemade double-chocolate-chip-and-almond scones on the way to UMary, by the laughter and embraces upon his arrival on campus, the excitement and shouted greetings from hallways and upstairs windows, the verbal and non-verbal shorthand between our son and his friends. He belongs there as much as in our home, and we were so subconsciously aware of this that dropping him off and driving away seemed almost natural.

It was not precisely so when we dropped off Gabe. I’ve reflected briefly on the difference when we celebrated his grad party earlier this summer: When we took Bren to Bismarck the first time, the sensation was like a long, taut line from me to him—I could not see him, but I could feel him and was acutely aware of his presence six hours to the west. But Gabe was dropped off just down the road in St. Paul, at a place he has been before. Currently he is at a camp somewhere in the woods, praying and team-building and training like countless times previously. From this perspective, this feels like no big deal—Gabe is doing youth ministry as he has for years now.

On the other hand, this time he is not coming home until Christmas and will be gone again until spring. And if he is chosen for a traveling team, as he hopes, he won’t be in any one place, but will live out of a suitcase, a van and a trailer, staying in strange homes in strange cities. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Learning to Surrender

Blogger’s Note: Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, July 25, 2018.

Last weekend was a whirlwind. We hosted a graduation party for our second son, Gabe, which meant that my parents, their dog, and my eldest son’s girlfriend, Becky, joined the seven of us and our dog in our three-bedroom house Friday through Sunday. The Engels—six in number, and as much family as our blood relatives—spent much of the daylight hours and a few after dark with us as well. The house was packed to the rafters and filled with laughter; the weather was wonderful, the turnout was great, and a joy was pervasive among almost everyone.

Almost everyone, except me. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.