You Don’t Stand a Chance

Note: This post appears as the Sunday, January 10, bulletin column for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

Many years ago, I ran across this bit of wisdom from Chinese poet Ching An:

“The joke’s on me: This year’s man is last year’s man.”

Ching An

Ain’t that the way of things? It may be a new year, but old habits die hard. As a result, many of us step boldly into January with big plans and a lot of false bravado to disguise our limp and cover our crutches.

For example, every January I struggle to accept all the things I haven’t accomplished in the previous year. What I have achieved doesn’t matter; the list of things I wish I’d done is always longer—invariably leading to speculation about what I need to do differently:

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What Child Is This?

Note: This post appears as the January 3, 2021, bulletin column (the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God) for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been smitten with the image of the pregnant Virgin Mary. When Jodi began showing with our first baby, I was struck with a notion that may be foreign to women undergoing the physical changes that accompany incubating new humans, but that hopefully has occurred to other men: Pregnant women are beautiful. The glow of the expecting mother is long established and oft reported, but the bodily transformation is no less captivating. A luminous mother-to-be, her belly impossibly round with child, calls to mind the miraculous, celestial beauty of the stars and planets—even drawing us into orbit around her.

The Pregnant Virgin Mary

This is appropriate, since she bears the future of the species, the planet, even the universe, within her womb.

If that’s true of my bride, it’s truer for our Blessed Mother. Mary’s circumstance was more difficult than most first pregnancies, but her trust and her joy were no doubt more complete. I see this young woman, innocent and unassuming, bearing the changes and challenges confronting her with simplicity and obedience, radiating the life of God within her while pouring herself out in service to her cousin, Elizabeth, and later, to her husband Joseph.

Do you see her, too? Is she not beautiful?

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What Can I Do for You?

Note: This post appeared in the December 13 editions of the St. Michael and St. Albert bulletins.

A wise older friend advised, “Every morning when you wake, ask God, ‘What do you want me to do for you today?’” Dutifully, I put a note on my side of the bed as a reminder, and most morning since, I have asked that question.

Occasionally, an answer emerges almost before I’ve asked—like the topic of this column, or the Lord urging me to be present, be gentle and listen to my bride. But often, I sit in silence, in the dark, and hear nothing. I wait a moment or two, then continue with my morning.

This makes me wonder if I’m not asking in the right way. I begin to grapple with the voices in my head and the desires in my heart, trying to direct a one-sided conversation with a God who, for the moment, chooses silence.

If I knew what He wanted at the beginning of the day, wouldn’t I make every effort to achieve it? So why won’t He just tell me?

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Equipped by the Struggle

Note: This post appeared in the Sunday, November 22, bulletins for St. Michael Catholic Church and the Church of St. Albert.

Some of you know that my bride and I are discerning the diaconate. Many years ago I mentioned becoming a deacon to a priest-friend. His response was that I should focus on my marriage and family, not ordination.

At the time, I took his response as absolute: The diaconate is not for me. Then, several years later, our beloved retired deacon Maynard Warne suggested it to me. I mentioned the priest’s advice, and Deacon Maynard said it might be time to reconsider.

In the years since, multiple people—friends, acquaintances and colleagues—have nudged me toward the diaconate. And I do feel called to serve the Lord in some deeper and more radical way.

But ordination…really?

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Be Present to the Present

Note: This post also appears in the St. Michael and St. Albert bulletins this weekend.

Last weekend I visited my parents in Michigan. It’s a 12-hour drive; my sister and I spent two days helping to sort through and organize 50 years of accumulation in their basement—then I drove 12 hours back home. It was a good weekend, in large part because I mostly avoided my phone and computer to focus on where I was, what I was doing and—most importantly—who I was with.

That is no small thing for me, because I slip easily into thinking about tomorrow, next week, the future. I am a planner by nature and struggle with uncertainty, but providentially, I listened to a wonderful audio version of C.S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters on the way to my folks’ place. The book is presented as a series of letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape, who is offering advice to his nephew, a junior tempter trying to lure one particular human soul to Hell.

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