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

New Opportunity!

It came to pass that on the last day of the eighth month, after many months of prayer and seeking and exactly two months of joblessness (more or less), I finally found a new opportunity to serve. Today I started work as the communications, evangelization, and outreach coordinator for the Church of St. Andrew in Elk River.

It is a half-time position, which means it provides a base of steady income and the freedom and flexibility for me to write and pursue freelance work. But because it’s only half-time, it also requires me to find enough other work to cover our bills.

It is providential in many ways: Continue reading

He’s Saving Me

SoulApostolateOne of the books I’m reading in my “down time” right now is The Soul of the Apostolate, by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard. The book has been bedside reading for popes and saints, and was recommended on Jason and Chrystalina Evert’s Chastity Project website as a critical step second only to prayer for anyone aspiring to active ministry. Fr. Chautard was a 19th- and early 20th- century Cistercian abbot in France, who saw a proliferation of active Catholic ministries around him, led by priests, religious, and lay people. Some prospered; others did not. Some were fruitful, and some weren’t. Some prospered in a worldly sense, but bore little spiritual fruit.

He saw the reason for this as a neglect of the interior life: seemingly good people became so busy doing seemingly good works they no longer had time to spend in intimate relationship with God. They neglected prayer, scripture, the rosary, even communion—forgetting that God is the only source of goodness for the works they are attempting.

That’s a summary of the book, so far at least—I’m only a third of the way through. I share it now because it has led me to a new reflection on these past two months of joblessness. Continue reading

Long Way Down (and The Litany of Patience)

Last week of August. The kids are heading back to school soon. I’m still working the early morning shift at FedEx, sorting packages; still waiting to hear on a couple of jobs that would be a huge step in the right direction (writing for the Church); still trying to write daily. Still praying, growing closer to Jesus and Mary—and yet, still anxious.

Today’s post won’t be much, except to share that I am, every day, trying and struggling to give up my will in favor of His. I’m trying to surrender. It’s like a trust fall into the immeasurable depths of God’s love and mercy: I know He’s there to catch me, but it’s so…far…down.

I haven’t hit bottom—but I’m still waiting to for the catch, too! Continue reading