All That Wasted Time…

Several weeks ago I resumed praying the St. Joseph the Worker prayer on a daily basis for the first time in years. The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit calls us to prayer, and this was definitely a Holy Spirit inspiration. For the past month, time and again, I’ve been convicted by a few brief lines near the end of this prayer:

…having always before me the hour of death and the accounting I must then render of time ill spent, of talents unemployed, of good undone, and of my empty pride in success, which is so fatal to the work of God.

Prayer to St. Joseph the Worker

I don’t know about you, but I waste a lot of time. Oh, I get done whatever needs to get done, but that’s a low bar. The real question is, how do I spend the bulk of the time given to me?

I’m working on my old ’66 Ford pickup this summer. Three years ago it was a daily driver, until it conked out along the roadside between Elk River and home. Since then, it has sat in our driveway, in various stages of disassembly, while I tried to track down the problem and fix it. I’ve had the diagnosis and the parts for two years or so, and finally got it running again last month.

What took so long? First of all, there was the anticipation that the job was harder and the problem likely bigger than I understood. I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to finish the job that I failed to start it!

But more than that, I chose not to do it, because I had other projects, other priorities, other things I’d rather do. For example, in the past three years:

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Rising to the Occasion

This post ran in the Ascension Sunday edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin, the weekend of May 28-29. Another note: My mother and my sister are both practicing Catholics these days…my bride sets a good example!

On this Ascension Sunday, I want to share with you a different sort of rising. Many of you know I didn’t grow up in the Catholic Church. I didn’t grow up in any church to speak of, aside from a brief period in the mid-1980s when my mother brought to St. Joseph the Worker in Beal City, Michigan, to be instructed in the catechism and receive our first Holy Communion from kindly old Father Hart.

Mom grew up in a Polish Catholic farm family. Dad was her next-door neighbor, of no particular faith; his grandmother shared Bible stories and values with him, but though he saw the sense in it, he has never claimed to be a believer. When I met my bride, I guess I was just Catholic enough—that brief period as a kid, plus a few dozen Catholic Masses and weddings, made enough of an impression that I could hold my own alongside her on Sunday mornings. And I was thoroughly smitten, so Jesus had His opening. He took full advantage.

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Perfection Reconsidered

This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, March 20, 2022, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

Last Saturday, my bride and I went to morning Mass together. In the gospel, Jesus admonishes His disciples, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

I’ve always taken this to be a tall order—impossible, in fact, for anyone but God alone. It almost always makes me feel small, weak, and inadequate to the task. These feelings may be true, but do not seem particularly helpful when it comes to striving for sainthood.

But Father Joe tweaked my thinking with his homily Saturday morning.

“Notice,” he said, “that the Lord doesn’t say, ‘Do everything perfectly,’ but ‘Be perfect.’”

He went on to explain that, with our fallen nature, we cannot expect never to make mistakes—but that we should do the best we can in every circumstance, striving to love as God loves.

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Building Spiritual Strength This Lent

My friend Jeremy and I met with our ninth-grade D-group last week to talk about Lent. The turnout was light that night, and with Ash Wednesday just a few days away, I thought I’d share some of what we discussed in hopes that others might benefit. Here are five tips for building spiritual strength this Lent:

  1. Prepare Yourself. If you haven’t already, spend some quiet time in prayer. Ask the Lord what He wants for you this Lent. If we don’t take time to prepare, we often default to the same old things we are comfortable with or we have struggled to keep in the past. Ask Him specifically about each of the three Lenten disciplines—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—and listen for His reply in the movements of your heart. How does He want you to grow in prayer? What good thing does He want you to give up for the next several weeks? How is He asking you to love your neighbor this year?
  2. Challenge Yourself. When you ask God what He wants from you, be prepared for an answer that might push you a bit. The Lord wants us to grow in holiness, but He does not challenge us beyond our abilities. I remember the teens in our Michigan youth group saying, “I could never give up such-and such!” and immediately seeking something else to sacrifice. If the Lord challenges you to do something difficult, lean into it—ask Him how to go about it, rather than steering the conversation to a more comfortable conclusion.
  3. Pace Yourself. Don’t be afraid to start small. When we lean into a challenge and talk with God about it, He helps us come up with small ways to build our spiritual strength. For example, if the Lord calls you to step away from your smartphone, and you’re not sure you can do that for all of Lent, maybe pick one day a week to be device-free—the Lord’s Day, perhaps, or Friday. On the flip side, sometimes we enter Lent with big ideas about the sacrifices we are ready to endure, but unless we’ve been practicing small sacrifices throughout the rest of the year, we may not be ready. Self-control takes practice, but even small sacrifices made with love are pleasing to God.
  4. Push Yourself. If you start small this Lent and feel called to do more, answer that call! My bride, Jodi, often adds to her Lenten commitments each week, building spiritual strength and momentum as she gets closer to Easter. It’s a great way to push yourself, grow in holiness, and learn your limitations.
  5. Be Gentle With Yourself. If you are challenging or pushing yourself as Lent goes on, there’s a good chance you’ll slip up or fall down—and that’s okay. I have found myself at both ends of the Lenten spectrum:  either throwing up my hands and giving up entirely when I’m not perfect or trying to do too much and white-knuckling it through Lent while those around me suffer my ill temper and frustration. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to start again, always in prayer. Growth is the goal, not instant perfection.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which is this Wednesday, March 2. Mass times are 7:45 AM (school Mass; open to all), 5:00 PM, and 7:00 PM—and don’t forget to fast and abstain from meat that day. Lenten guidelines are online at usccb.org/prayer-worship/liturgical-year/lent. Have a blessed Lent!

This post appeared as a column in the Sunday, February 27, 2022, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

A Long Time Comfortable

This post appeared as a column in the January 16 bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church. It was written during the cold snap the week before.

As I write this morning, it’s -24 outdoors. That people work outdoors in this weather—expanding our church facilities, for example—is amazing. That people sleep and starve outdoors in this weather while I sit comfortably typing away is tragic and humbling.

The daily readings for the week after Epiphany focus on the love of God, in concept (Saint John’s first letter, explaining that God is love, and all that implies) and in deed (examples of Jesus’ teaching, feeding, healing, and other miracles from Saints Mark and Luke.

The gospel for January 5 was Mark’s story of the feeding of the 5,000, followed by Jesus walking on water and calming the sea. Once Jesus joins His disciples in the boat, Mark ends with this:

They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.

Mark 6:52

My first thought reading this was, “What’s not to understand? How could Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000-plus people harden the hearts of His followers?”

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