Wednesday Witness: Simple Act of Mercy

Five minutes ago, my smart phone buzzed to say a new text message had arrived. This is a fairly frequent occurrence on weekdays, but this was no ordinary text:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020 12:22 PM

Archiocese SPM – Anointing: Please now pray one Our Father for someone suffering from COVID-19 who is about to be anointed in our Archdiocese; one Hail Mary for comfort for the patient’s family; and one Glory Be in thanksgiving for and in protection of the priest and the medical team ministering to the person. Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us! St. Roche, pray for us!

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has set up two text-based prayer groups that anyone can sign up for: The first sends out a message whenever a priest in the archdiocese has been sent to give the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to a COVID-19 patient who is seriously ill or facing death; the second sends a message whenever a frontline healthcare worker in the archdiocese has asked for prayer support for their work. Instructions for signing up for these prayer lines can be found on the Archdiocese COVID-19 Prayers webpage.

I signed up to support the Anointing Corps on Friday. Within a couple hours, my phone buzzed, and when I saw the message, I choked up. It is easy—in a third-ring suburb, in a Midwestern state that thus far has not been hit as hard as my homestate of Michigan or either of the coasts—to get frustrated with not being able to do what we want, when we want, and to forget that somewhere not far from here, this virus is stealing a life.

I wiped my eyes and prayed.

I have received seven more texts since then—including two overnight last night and the one from the top of this post. That’s not so many, perhaps, but it’s enough to keep me aware of the need for God’s love and mercy for those most affected. And what simpler way to be an instrument of that mercy? In less that two minutes, we can lift an entire family and team of caregivers in real time.

It’s humbling. God does not need our help in His saving work, and honestly, often we fumble in our attempts. But like a good and patient Father, He wants us near, learning and growing in our half-hearted attempts to be like Him.

Wednesday Witness: Life Abounds

In December 2017, my daughter Emma and I were driving near Clearwater, hoping to practice merging and freeway driving ahead of a long trip to Bismarck on the coming weekend. As she was getting on the freeway for the first time, a knot of cars approached, and it was difficult to tell if they were letting her in. Our passenger-side tires hit slush on the shoulder; we began to fishtail and then spun across both lanes of traffic and into the median. We were struck hard by at least one other vehicle, which also wound up in the median. It was terrifying.

I wrote about the experience afterward: how, in an instant, I came to the stark realization that my life and hers were not in my control. Strangely, that revelation came with a feeling of extraordinary peace and the desire that, whatever happened, my daughter should know that she is loved and that everything is okay. 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

“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.

10292213_10202653383870291_2890995895700610990_n

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