All Too Familiar

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the starts, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

St. Augustine

In last weekend’s gospel reading, Jesus is rejected in His hometown. His family, friends and neighbors watched Him grow up among them, and as the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The better we think we know a something, the less special it seems.

In a country like ours, in which Mass is readily accessible and religious persecution is relatively rare and non-violent, we can be tempted to regard Jesus in the Holy Eucharist in the same way. Our priests celebrate five Sunday Masses each weekend at St. Michael alone, and in an effort to urge people to resume going to church in person, the Church has emphasized how easy it is to find a Mass near you, wherever you are.

All of which makes it easy to say, I can go to Mass later. I can go to Mass anytime. I guess I’ll go next week.

Continue reading

Same Ol’ Same Ol’…

This post appeared in the June 27, 2021, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.

This August, my bride and I will have been married 25 years. At this point, you’d think we would understand each other, or at least give one another the benefit of the doubt. But we don’t. Most of the conflict in our marriage turns on the same little things that derailed us a quarter century ago. Our insecurities, assumptions and coping mechanisms are the same—and so our frustrations are also the same.

After 25 years, I wonder why she doesn’t get me, but I rarely apply that standard to myself. I inflict, then apologize for, the same little wounds, to the point now that most of the time, Jodi doesn’t realize what I’m apologizing for. She seems to take nothing personally (thank you, Jesus!), but that doesn’t make it right.

Continue reading

Extended Book Break: The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis

I was blessed, on my trip to Michigan and back in the past few weeks, to listen to The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis in its entirety. The version available on Audible, narrated by Geoffrey Howard, is approximately 24 hours of continuous listening, and worth every minute. The three books of The Space Trilogy were certainly inspired by classic science fiction of the last century, but combine these influences with fantasy, mythology, horror and Christian theology.

  • The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, is the most sci-fi of the three, delving into interplanetary space flight and exploration, extraterrestrial life-forms and more. A British linguist named Ransom is shanghaied onto a spaceship bound for a nearby planet known by its native inhabitants as Malacandra. He escapes his captors to discover multiple rational animals with very different appearances, skills and abilities, and cultures, who nevertheless live together in good-humored and mutually beneficial peace. Slowly Ransom abandons his earthly notions of power, control, and desire and strives to help the natives against the other Earthlings who seek to exploit them.
  • The second book, Perelandra, is a science-fantasy tale also involving interplanetary travel and extraterrestrial life to frame a retelling of the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Ransom agrees to travel to the planet Perelandra on an urgent mission, but with no idea what that mission is. He encounters a lone humanoid woman who lives in harmony with the world and creatures around her and is searching for her man. An old adversary arrives from Earth to tempt the woman into disobeying the higher powers she knows on Perelandra, and Ransom must again fight against his fellow man as well as demonic activity to save a pristine world from importing Earth’s sin.
  • The final book, That Hideous Strength, is as long as the first two books combined and takes place entirely on Earth, specifically, in England. It continues Ransom’s tale in a story combining dystopian fiction, Arthurian legend and horror to critique materialism, modernism, politics, education and contemporary ideas of gender and marriage. It follows a young sociologist striving to get ahead in his career by joining a new and increasingly powerful national scientific insitute, while his wife, who is struggling with bad dreams that appear to predict the future, falls in with a small band of local resistance led by an eccentric old linguist who is rumored to be contact with powerful extraterrestrials who are pure spirit and are preparing for a final battle over the fate of the Earth.
Continue reading

A Promise, Not a Threat

This post appeared in the Sunday, May 9, edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

I spent the past week with my folks in Michigan, in the log house we built together when I was in high school. It’s surrounded by trees and green pastures, flowers and birds, with deer wandering through nightly and a plump woodchuck burrowed in beneath an old truck-box-turned-storage shed.

We built this place from scratch, from tall, straight pines some of which we felled ourselves. We drove the well ourselves. At the time, there wasn’t a thing my dad couldn’t do with his mind and body—and I, who had a very different mind than his, was amazed by what he could see and accomplish.

Over the past few years, time has taken a toll on my father. His strength is diminished; his hands, unsteady; that creative inner vision, not as clear as it used to be. His machine shop is largely idle these days, but he stays busy keeping the lawn and pasture mowed, the birds and wildlife fed, and my mother loved and entertained.

Continue reading

Take the Wheel

The post was published as a column in the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin for Sunday, April 25.

I have a bone to pick with Fr. Mike Schmitz.

Before you send a message up to Duluth to tell him I’m calling him out, let me explain: Several years ago, I shared a wonderful video of his with the parents in our LIFT classes, entitled “Heaven: You’re Not Good Enough (and Why That’s Okay).”

It’s a great video—Google it!—but in the final minute, he says something that has haunted me ever since: “I’m not good enough to go to the Olympics, and I’m not good enough to go to heaven, but any one of us can surrender.”

Any one of us can surrender. He says it, just like that.

Have you ever tried? I have. I can say the words and think the thoughts, but when it comes to actually letting go and letting God, I can’t unclench my fists.

Any one of can surrender, he says. Sure…but how?

Continue reading