The Phantom Cross, or ‘It’s Not About You’

I’m Mary and I’m Martha all at the same time
I’m sitting at His feet and yet I’m dying to be recognized.
I am a picture of contentment and I’m dissatisfied.
Why is it easy to work and hard to rest sometimes?

Audrey Assad, “Lament”

My last post, “The Better Part,” was on Mary and Martha, and God continues to hammer my heart with the example of these two holy women. Yesterday was St. Martha’s feast day, so Jodi and I reflected again on the story in Luke chapter 10, and I was struck by how much of my busy-ness—which I pretend is selfless and sacrificial—is in fact all about me. Continue reading

Call and Response: Embracing the Already of Christ’s Saving Act

Blogger’s Note: This was my final paper for the fourth semester of the Catechetical Institute, “Prayer: The Blessing Given and Received.” In this reflection, we were not only to discuss the final pillar of the Catechism, but the book and Institute as a whole. After two years of study, the Class of St. Padre Pio graduated this evening, following Mass with Bishop Kettler presiding. 

The fourth pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) calls us to deeper relationship with our heavenly Father who loves us and redeems us by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, and the actions of the Holy Spirit in the world today. This relationship is cultivated through the gift of prayer, “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (CCC 2558), approached “‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart” (CCC 2559). We are creatures, completely dependent on God’s love and mercy, not only for salvation, but for our basic needs, our next breath, our very existence. Even our desire to pray is prompted by the One who desires us, seeks us, spies us from afar and runs to greet us with great joy and love.

As with the previous pillars, I was struck by how much of the “work” of prayer is in God’s hands, not ours. We bear it like a burden at times, but it is He who beckons and inspires, who teaches us what to pray for and in what order (CCC 2763), who knows our needs before we express them and even when we can’t express them. It is He who changes us in prayer, not the other way around. I was also drawn again to His proximity: We sometimes cry out to Him as though He dwells a long way off in Heaven, but that Catechism reassures us that the heaven in which God dwells—“Our Father who art in Heaven”—is less elsewhere and more elseway:

This biblical expression does not mean a place (“space”), but a way of being; it does not mean that God is distant, but majestic. Our Father is not “elsewhere”: he transcends everything we can conceive of his holiness. It is precisely because he is thrice holy that he is so close to the humble and contrite heart.

“Our Father who art in heaven” is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as in his holy temple. At the same time, it means that those who pray should desire the one they invoke to dwell in them (CCC 2794).

So we are not only immersed in God, but He in us—the Holy Spirit is not only as close as oil on skin, but so thoroughly fills us that, in truth, our only escape from Him is an act of the will in which we reject His love and refuse to turn back to Him. He who has the power to save us desires my salvation more than I do myself! Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Following Jesus as a Family

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

The 2018-2019 Faith Formation program launches tonight with the 11th-Grade Confirmation Retreat and the first classes for grades 1-8. It’s going to be a busy, fun- and faith-filled evenings—but we want it to also be fruitful. What does fruitful formation look like?

The Church and the sacraments exist for one reason: the salvation of souls. We are all created out of love, in the image of God, for holiness and heaven—but we must choose to follow Him. From the scripture verse above, we know that discipleship, or following Jesus, involves work and sacrifice. Beyond that, it will look different for each person and each family. We all have different gifts, different responsibilities, different callings—but we are all called to love God above all, and our neighbor as ourselves.

So now is the time to ask: How are we responding to this call? And how can we respond better? 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

The Narrow Way

Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” — Matthew 7:13-14

The narrow way leads ever upward, and you follow as you can. Bare rock and brambles, clefts and washouts so steep and deep you turn sideways to pass or clamber out on all fours. Feet and fingers dirt-caked and bloody; knees rubbed raw, and muscles aching, you begin to imagine the weight of the wood.

The path that left the road was barely a path at all: a crooked parting in the thistles and brush, leading up to scrub oak and pines. Emerging at last above the trees, at intervals you glimpse the road below, broad and easy, winding downward into the cool shadows of the valley; you hear snatches of ribald song, bells, and laughter.

But that was hours ago—the temptation to join the carefree throng is long past. Beyond birdsong and brooksong, the air is thin and sharp as a blade in your lungs. As the sun drops, the urge now is not to turn back, but simply to cease. Continue reading