What I Couldn’t Say

Yesterday was Bethany’s wake; today will be her funeral. For me, the wake was a flurry of hugs and tears; I had an evening meeting to attend and wanted to see as many of my Poland daughters as possible, along with Bethany’s family, before I left.

It was hard to feel the heartache of people you care for in your arms and chest as you hold each other in sorrow. I wished aloud more than once that I could say something to ease the pain of her passing (I believe that, in the moment, the words were actually “to make this suck less”)—but I don’t know why this happened, and I miss her, too.

* * * * *

Imagine the thing that matters most to you in all the world—beautiful, precious, perfect in your eyes. Imagine that you crafted this thing yourself, putting all of your attention, skill, and loving care into every detail. Imagine holding it in your hands, gazing at it in joy and wonder, and seeing how good it is. Continue reading

He Thinks, Therefore I Am

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? — 1 Corinthians 3:16

Yesterday morning I read St. Matthew’s account of the baptism of the Lord. Two things struck me. The first was that, in the Ignatius (Revised Standard Version) Bible I was reading, the translation is somewhat different from the New American version we hear at Mass (linked to above). The New American translation says, “[H]e saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him.” The Revised Standard translation says, “[H]e saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him.”

The difference is small, but struck me as important, because alighting suggests the Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus and remained with Him. This is reinforced by the first line of the next chapter, which begins just one verse later: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

See that? The Spirit is still with Him, leading Him.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us, either. We talk sometimes about the indelible mark left on our souls by certain of the sacraments, which might leave us with the mistaken notion that God makes an impression on us but doesn’t stick around. But clearly the Spirit did not leave Jesus—in fact, in paragraph 695 of the Catechism, we learn that the Holy Spirit represents the very anointing that signifies Jesus as the Christ, or messiah: the anointed one of God. And He is covered completely by this anointing, as close as oil on skin: “The humanity the Son assumed was entirely anointed by the Holy Spirit” (CCC 695). Continue reading

Time Flies: A Thorp Family Update

The most recent photo of us all, with my folks and
sister’s family thrown in for good measure.

I’ve remarked more times than I can count in the past year: “My age doesn’t bother me; it’s the fact that Brendan is heading to college.” It’s my kids’ ages that get to me — not the the additional salt in my pepper, the aches and pains, the fact that I’m often tired and can rarely sleep.

This past year has flown, and with a grad party and a trip to Poland for World Youth Day, the summer promises to be even faster. So I thought I’d offer you all an update on our family before we blink and the leaves fall again.

Prom-goers: Brendan and Olivia

Brendan, as you may have heard, is headed to UMary in the fall. He will graduate early in June in the top 10 in his class, with a varsity letter in wrestling and local scholarships from Knights of Columbus Council 4174 (of which he is one of the newest members), the American Legion, and the Hanover Athletic Association. He loves Ultimate Frisbee (actually all four of our teens/tweens do), dabbles in swing-dancing, and is still happily dating Olivia. (Last night’s consisted of Adoration and ice cream.) He is still working at the hardware store, and just starting a second job with a local electrical contractor for the summer. He loves his bass and his music (Foo Fighters is his current favorite band), and yesterday, he bought an acoustic guitar for song writing and kicks. And he has a pipe, which he smokes on occasion.

Swing-dancers: Gabe and Kate

Gabe is now the tallest in our family, by perhaps a quarter inch. He is working on getting his driver’s license this summer, helping our friend’s taxidermy business, and preparing for his junior year of high school. He was confirmed this month, was just inducted into the National Honor Society like his older brother (NHS at our high school does a great deal in service to the school and community), and will be one of the leaders of the high-school pro-life group in the fall. He played soccer but didn’t wrestle this year, and is on the fence about next year — too many other interests, including reading and writing, teaching himself piano, learning Quenya (J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish language), and swing-dancing. In this last activity, he works hard and excels — especially when paired with his friend and fellow Lord of the Rings geek Kate. They aren’t dating, just dancing and discerning together.

Emma and two of her flute-playing besties

Emma is easily the tallest female in the house and explored the high-school for the first time yesterday as an incoming freshman. She played volleyball in the fall and is running track this spring — plus playing flute in the band and woodwind ensemble and singing in the middle-school choir. The music, at least, will continue in high school. Emma has followed her brothers to help with the church’s Core Team and is also an avid swing-dancer (which means boys); Gabe’s dance-partner is one of Rosebud’s mentors in becoming a young woman of virtue. Emma dabbles in piano, too; reads voraciously, and bakes like our family is twice the size (and it will be, unless we share her goodies). She is hoping to start baby-sitting soon and wants a new dog almost as much as her dad.

Trevor rocking

Trevor will be our sole middle-schooler next year, and plans to work out this summer in hopes of wrestling on the school team in seventh grade. He is a rhythmically gift version of the boy his father was: a creative thinker and storyteller, easily distracted, heart-on-his-sleeve…but coordinated enough to rock a drum kit (or the kitchen table, a couch cushion, his thighs…), to play basic piano music with relative ease, and to dance to almost any song when the mood strikes him. Also an avid reader and a good student, but with a style all his own: whereas Gabe has a hat collection and wears them on occasion, Trevor wears a brown fedora each day to school. He shows signs of a mechanical knack (another difference from his father) and still loves Legos.

Typical Lily

Lily completed her year of Catholic co-op preschool yesterday. She is colorful, funny, opinionated, and creative, with an ever-expanding vocabulary and a precocious sense of humor for a four-year-old, included puns and word-play and physical comedy along with the typical (non-sensical and never-ending) knock-knock jokes. She, too, likes to dance and to watch her swing-dancing elders, and she makes her siblings friends her own whenever she has the chance. She, too, has sprouted in the past year — she is a head taller than her plastic barn playset she so enjoyed last summer — and although she rarely eats a lot at a sitting, she would eat constantly if allowed. And she loves superheroes, especially Batman and the Justice Leaque.

Jodi and I are well — and abundantly blessed, in the midst of such breakneck activity. My bride often says it feels like only a short while ago that Brendan got on the bus for kindergarten the first time, and so it seems to be as well. We will have been married 20 years this August, and for my part, I am as happy as I have ever been.

That said, I had to be reminded of something not long ago, with the help of a priest friend: as Christians, spouses, parents, we have a serious call in this world, which requires a serious, heartfelt response — but none of that means that God doesn’t desire our happiness or enjoyment of this life. He came that His joy may be ours — shame on us if that joy does not pervade all that we do, and all that we are. It can seem terribly romantic to think ourselves unworthy of the blessings in our lives — the soft warmth of the one who lies next to us in the wee hours before waking, or the noise of a full and laughing house — and to strive and sacrifice to show our appreciation and earn our worth. But in truth, we are worthy — intrinsically — as God’s beloved children. So while I must not take my beautiful bride and these five awesome children for granted, I can love them best if I realize that my worth, and each of theirs, comes from our creation in His image and in resting in his embrace.

We are so blessed. As sinners, we don’t deserve it…but what else should we expect from such a God as this?

Last summer…where does the time go?

A Father’s Greatest Fear

This past week, 130 teens from our parish and school received the Sacrament of Confirmation. A few of these young people are already leaders in the community, drawing others to Christ. More will enter into the fullness of the Catholic faith and begin to live as disciples of Jesus, called to follow, and gifted to reach out to their family, friends, and strangers in new and beautiful ways.

But unfortunately, many others will view Confirmation as the last requirement of “growing up Catholic.” They will be happy to be done with religion classes and will begin almost immediately to drift away from the Church.

Last weekend my bride and I spent Sunday afternoon with three other couples trying to raise Catholic families. We talked about cultivating perseverance in our children: strengthening them to look for ways forward when the going gets tough, to have the courage of their convictions, and to fall and rise again. We talked, in particular, about the difficulty of letting our teens make decisions we don’t agree with in order for them to learn on their own those things that our experience could teach but that they won’t hear.

At least two of us agreed that our biggest fear is our children falling away from the faith. My friend said that when he shares this fear, people will seek to reassure him: You are doing everything you can; they have to make their own choices.

“In reality, it’s not about me,” he said. “I worry, because I know how long a road it is to come back.”

I would add to his observation the sobering reality of eternity, heaven, and hell. We don’t like to think about these things—hell, in particular—but Jesus speaks plainly about them. I remember, in my younger years, seeing TV commercials featuring Carol O’Connor of Archie Bunker fame, after he had lost a son to drugs and suicide, saying: “Get between your kids and drugs any way you can.”

If only we took the same approach in the spiritual life.

So how do we keep our kids Catholic? It is not as simple as demanding they show up on Sundays and Wednesdays and go through the motions. All of us have a choice to make, every day, to follow Jesus and make God and our faith the center of our lives. To deny the reality of that choice is to deny the very thing that makes us special in this universe: bodily creations with rational spirits, with intellect and will, so loved by God that He allows us the freedom to choose for or against Him.

Why would anyone choose against God? C.S. Lewis’s short novel The Great Divorce lays out many reasons, rooted primarily in the earthly things—even blessings—that we put ahead of God and cling to at the expense of Him who is all Truth and all Love. God, spouse, children, everything else—is my house in order? Not as often as I’d like.

So what hope is there for our young people? Well, we have a Redeemer who, undeserving though we are, has already suffered on our behalf, and a Father in Heaven who doesn’t want to lose our children, either. He is constantly calling them, and us, to Himself—as singer-songwriter Jon Guerra puts it: “My Father ever chasing/My Chaser ever keeping/My Keeper ever giving/My ever-living God.”

I’ve referenced before an online article called “Keeping Our Kids Catholic: The Indispensable Minimum.” The writer describes our role as parents as forming “a thread of solid formation in morals and Church teaching that will keep even our most errant kids tethered to God—and which God himself can twitch to bring them back someday.”

Ultimately our children belong to the same heavenly Father that we do, and they are His to love, to call home, to save. We are not alone, and we don’t have to do it all. We only have to do all we can.

Rise and Walk: Looking Ahead to Next Year’s Program

This past week we completed our family faith formation sessions for the year, and this weekend our LIFT first communicants will receive the Blessed Sacrament for the first time. The past year has flown by, and I suspect the summer planning season will pass even faster. We have lots of great for next year, but one of more significant changes has to do with the age of Confirmation. After extensive discussion in recent years, including our priests, committee members, catechists, and staff members at St. Michael and St. Albert parishes, we have decided to gradually shift the age of Confirmation to 8th grade for all our students.

This decision was made for several reasons, but for me, the two most compelling are these:
  • Middle-schoolers are more open to evangelization and catechesis. They are more likely to follow the lead of their parents and parish volunteers, more excited about activities and retreats, and significantly less busy. High-schoolers have other priorities, including sports, exams, driver’s ed, jobs, and social lives—and unless their faith is already a top personal priority, it is difficult to make them care.
  • We already have great success in reaching and converting middle-schoolers. We have tremendous youth ministry programs that change kids’ lives (as almost anyone who has sent their kids to Extreme Faith Camp can attest). We don’t capture the heart of every middle-schooler, but of the high-schoolers we have who stay committed to their faith through graduation and beyond, nearly all of them were hooked in middle school. Each year we have a large “bubble” of students who show up for Confirmation classes—why not move the bubble to the age at which we have proven success in reaching kids and helping to keep them Catholic

What does this mean for you? If your children attend the parish school, they will continue to be confirmed in 8th grade. If your children attend LIFT and our parish Confirmation program, the plan looks like this:

  • Next year: Tenth-grade students will see no change; they will complete the second year of the Chosen program and be confirmed in Spring 2017 as planned. Ninth-grade students will complete a more intensive, one-year Chosen program and will also be confirmed in Spring 2017.
  • 2017-18:Ninth-grade students will complete a more intensive, one-year Chosen program and will be confirmed in Spring 2018. Eighth-grade students will complete either a one-year program (either based on Chosen or the YDisciple model) and will also be confirmed in Spring 2018.
  • 2018-19:Eighth-grade students will complete a one-year program using the YDisciple model from this point forward.

The YDisciple model involves forming small groups of around eight students each, beginning in middle school, with a trained adult leader who walks with those students from middle-school until they graduate. In each discipleship group (or D-group), students continue to learn about their Catholic faith, grow in prayer and discipleship, support each other, and hold each other accountable.

This is a volunteer-intensive effort. We will need people who feel called to work with teens and share their faith, who are willing to be trained and to commit to a group of young people, and who are able to share their own lives as examples of faithful discipleship. It is a daunting task to find and train so many volunteers, but we believe this is where God is calling us, and He will make our efforts fruitful.

In fact, our need for dedicated disciples who are ready to work in the vineyard is not limited to Confirmation. We have such great needs in this parish, and so few workers. It is time for those of us who have been asleep to rise and walk, with our spouses and children, our friends and neighbors, and all those in our lives who need Christ—in short, with everyone!