Reflections on ‘Vocation: The Universal Call and the End of Man’

Blogger’s Note: This is a short reflection I wrote on Deacon Joseph Michalak’s Catechetical Institute Formative Session talk, “Vocation: The Universal Call and the End of Man.” Since I missed the session traveling to Michigan to see my folks, I was asked to write a short essay to show I had listened to it on my own.

Some years ago I wrote an essay about “the Jim in my Head,” a version of myself who is always a gentleman, always charming and courteous, always knew what to say and when to be still. That Jim, if he existed, would be loved and admired by others…but he became a source of frustration to me.

When I wrote about the Jim in my Head, he was meant to be a humorous sort of inspiration, but he became a yardstick with which to beat myself. I acted as though everyone else saw the imagined ideal and could judge to what extent I came up short. I fell into the “if-only” trap: if only I were in a different situation; had a different job; had more time and money, a different degree, etc. I finally saw the trap for what it was a year or so ago when I caught myself thinking, If only I had different gifts. The implication was that I would be a better person if God had made me better—as if the One who is all love had withheld something from me, or the One who is perfect wisdom had made a mistake.

Deacon Michalak emphasizes that the call to holiness is not only universal, but is our sole purpose—the only end worth pursuing in this life. We are each perfectly equipped to pursue this end in precisely the way God intends for us, provided we stay close to Him. This mirrors a recent comment from my spiritual director: “As long as you are open to God’s will in your life each day, you can’t screw this up.”

Why? Because He desires us to be with Him. That’s His sole reason for creating us.

I want to live an integrated life. I want my roles as husband, father, protector, provider, professional and Christian to be oriented to a single end: sainthood, for me and those I love. And I want to love everyone I encounter, so that my prayer for sainthood extends to all. It is a source of tremendous hope to me to know that I have a purpose, that I am perfectly suited to that purpose, and that God is personally invested in helping me achieve that purpose. Instead of trying to measure up to the man in my head, who doesn’t exist and never did, I can aspire to be the man in God’s heart, who is the only me who has ever existed.

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

‘You Wicked Servant’

Yesterday’s gospel reading was Matthew 18:21-35, in which Peter asks Jesus how often he must forgive his brother. “As many as seven times?” he says naively, thinking that would be plenty.

Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants…”

Thus begins the parable of the wicked servant, in which the Lord lays out in stark terms our duty to forgive.

You probably remember the story: The king calls to account a servant who owes him a huge amount of money. Since the servant has no way of repaying it, the king plans to sell him, his family, and all his belongings.  But the servant begs for mercy, promising to repay the debt in time. And the king relents—not only does he decide not to sell the servant and all he has, but he forgives the loan altogether in response to the servant’s humble plea.

The first servant then seeks out another servant who owes him money and seizes and chokes him, demanding immediate repayment. The wrath of his master is immediate and severe: The first servant is handed over to the torturers until he repays his entire debt to the king.

Consider for a moment the fact that we’ve already been told the servant had no way of paying back the money. How, then, will he ever escape the torturers?

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You Did It For Me

It is the first full week of Lent, and already I struggle. I must have chosen well which things to uproot from my life—my family and I are enjoying great sport pointing out my unconscious consumption and countless offhand comments, both of which I’m attempting to quit.

Additionally, each Lent we notice how little we focus specifically, consciously, on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  During our morning prayers, Jodi and I shared today’s Gospel reading,  Matthew 25:31-46, which includes these words of warning:

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’  …  ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

It’s sobering each time we hear it: another year flown by, and what did we do for the least of His brothers? Our brothers?

Sure we’ve given money, now and again. We lend a hand when we can. And we pray—often—for the poor. In fact, in the past year we’ve added a prayer to each and every meal. Each time we say Grace, we end with a prayer adopted from a couple of local families who are dear to us: “May God provide for the needs of others as He has provided for us. Amen.”

So this morning we prayed, read Scripture, reflected, and discussed. When we sat to eat breakfast, we said the meal prayer and added our family coda.

Something struck me. That little added prayer, which should have made us more aware of those in need, was serving as our escape clause. The prayer should be: “May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us.”

God provides abundantly for His people, but although we are equal in dignity, inequalities abound as part of His plan.

On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The “talents” are not distributed equally. These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1936-1937).

In other words, inequalities exist so that we complement each other and share what we have with those in need out of love. We cannot outsource this call to charity, especially by foisting it back upon the Giver of all Gifts. He gave them to us for a reason.

So we’ve changed our prayer (for Lent, and maybe for good) in order to change our hearts:

May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us. Amen.

May this thrice-a-day reminder spur us to action. God has already done His part to take care of those in need: He gave them me.

Book Break: Three Quick Reviews

I am doing something I’ve never done before: I’m sharing three spiritual-book mini-reviews at once, and two are for books I haven’t finished (and may never finish). The books are:

All three are recommended reading, so why not finish them? Read on!

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