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

“Jesus, I Trust in You”

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.

In yesterday’s post on spiritual fatherhood, I mentioned the loss of one of my Poland daughters following ski accident last January. Bethany, I learned, had a deep devotion to St. Faustina. That knowledge, coupled with discussions in my new men’s group about the number of families in our community in need of God’s love and healing, rekindled my own previous interest in Divine Mercy.

Then in February, while I was at a conference at St. John’s University, I received a text from a friend to pray for her brother,  a relatively young husband and father who had gone missing that morning. Continue reading

Motherland of Mercy, Part 3: Pope St. John Paul II

Blogger’s Note: This is the third of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.

Pope St. John Paul II

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” — Pope St. John Paul II

jpiiBorn Karol Wojtyła in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920. Suffered the loss of his family, freedom, and country by the time he was 21 years old; risked his life under the Nazi regime to promote Polish cultural  resistance and study for the priesthood. Recognized as a gifted theologian, pastor, and bishop; elected pope in 1978 and brought the Good News to 129 countries. Instrumental in the fall of dictatorships and Communism; wounded critically in an assassination attempt in 1981; credited Our Lady for preserving his life and met with and forgave the assassin. Served as pope until his death in 2005, despite declining health due to Parkinson’s and old age. One of the most recognized figures of the 20th century.   View a more complete biography here.

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My photo of a saint, taken at World Youth Day in Toronto, 2002.

Unlike yesterday’s saint, Faustina Kowalska, St. John Paul II is the Polish saint I know best. I’ve read countless articles and two biographies: Witness to Hope by George Weigel and Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert. He was the pope during my return to Catholic church and for more than half my life so far. Additionally, he is the one (known) saint I’ve had the privilege of seeing and hearing in person, at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Continue reading

Motherland of Mercy, Part 2: St. Faustina Kowalska

Blogger’s Note: This is the second of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.

St. Faustina Kowalska

“I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart.” — Jesus to St. Faustina

faustinaBorn Helena Kowalska in Głogowiec, Poland, in 1905, to a poor, religious peasant family. Felt called to religious life at an early age, but went to work as a housekeeper to help support herself and her family. Accepted to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) in Warsaw in 1924, and in 1926, received her habit and the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. Began having visions of Jesus as “the King of Divine Mercy” in February 1931, instructing her in His love and mercy, asking her to to paint His likeness with the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You,” and to establish a feast of mercy in the Church. View a more complete biography here.

I have to admit, of the three Polish saints I am profiling, I know the least about Faustina. Unlike  Maximilian Kolbe, whose zeal for saint-making, boundless energy, and prolific publishing career made him known even before his martyrdom, or John Paul II, who was the most well-traveled pontiff in history and one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century, St. Faustina lived out her vocation and mystical experience primarily in private. Like many Catholic mystics, she suffered poor health, and she died at just 33 years old. She is one of a handful of saints for whom an autobiography exists; it was written at the urging of her confessor, is some 600 pages long, and is on my reading list for this fall. Continue reading

Motherland of Mercy, Part 1: St. Maximilian Kolbe

Blogger’s Note: I have no set order for these Sacred Heart posts, but am writing as Providence provides and the Spirit moves. Today the readings in 33 Days to Morning Glory shifted to focus on John Paul II, and I was called back to July 2016, World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland

Rome may be the the Eternal City and the seat of Catholic teaching authority, wisdom, and creativity in the world, but it seems to me that Poland is its bleeding, beating heart. Ravaged by wars and neighboring countries, ripped apart and reconstituted, invaded and occupied, the Poles have fought, suffered, and died for centuries, surrendering everything they had except their faith. Today, Poland is the homeland of ten 20th-century canonized Catholic saints and, I would argue, serves as the counter-cultural, Catholic conscience of Europe.

In summer of 2016, however, three specific Polish saints loomed large over World Youth Day in Kraków: the martyr of Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe; the visionary nun, St. Faustina Kowalska; and the prophetic pope, St. John Paul the Great. Each in his or her own way lived out the love of Christ in the world, pouring themselves out for the salvation of souls. Each embodied His suffering Sacred Heart. Over the next three days I will look at them, one at a time, and explain as best I can what captured my imagination about each of them. Continue reading