Wednesday Witness: Help Me, I’m Hopeless!

In recent weeks, God is trying to change some old habits in me that get in the way of loving as He loves. It’s exciting to feel the Lord’s presence and attention when He’s nudging you to some deeper insight or change.

It’s exhilarating…for awhile.

What happens with me usually looks something like this: God is calling me to make some changes—primarily interior changes, but they affect my external behavior, as well. I am grateful for His insights and inspired to try. I begin doing things differently. It feels good to do things differently, even if no one notices.

No one notices.

I’m tempted to tell someone, just to gain a little reinforcement that I’m on the right track. On a good day, I say a little prayer and resist this temptation, knowing that this is just my insecurity looking for an attaboy. On a less good day, I tell someone and get my temporary fix of positive feedback to keep me going for a few more hours at least.

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Called to Another Country

“The land you are to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come…” – Deuteronomy 11:10

I am reading The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a broken and sinful young man who grew up between the World Wars, converted to Catholicism in his 20s, and ultimately became a Trappist monk and priest. Merton is complicated, and his later writings indicate a potentially dangerous attraction to Buddhism. But externally, at least, he never left the priesthood or his order, and his conversion story is a profound and thought-provoking read.

Merton regrets that he did not have the sense to embrace the life of grace the Lord was providing on the day he joined the Catholic Church. Following his baptism and first Holy Communion, he returned to the life he led before—as an aspiring intellectual and writer—except with a few spiritual practices added to the mix: He attended Mass on the weekends and sometimes during the week, went to Confession more than once a month, and engaged in spiritual reading on a fairly regular basis.

To my eyes, that list reads like the makings of a strong disciple. Merton saw it differently: “A man who has just come out of the hospital, having nearly died there, and having been cut to pieces on the operating table, cannot immediately begin to lead the life of the ordinary working man. And after the spiritual mangle I have gone through, it will never be possible for me to do without the sacraments daily, and without much prayer and penance and meditation and mortification.” Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Tame My Tongue

I seem to have a faulty filter.

It is well established that I am an emotional and vocal person with a strong desire for affirmation and an apparent inability to suffer in silence. Those characteristics alone ought to be enough to sanctify my wife and children. But I have the additional quirk that my verbal filter was installed on the wrong end of my tongue. Instead of capturing the rubbish my brain produces before it exits my mouth, my filter is several seconds downstream, between my ears and heart. I hear what I’m spewing and my heart hurts, but it’s too late. My only hope is a pause in the outburst long enough for my heart to signal my brain to activate the emergency shut-off. Then I apologize, restart the system and begin again. Continue reading

We Are All With Child

Blogger’s Note: This reflection was originally published in the Sunday, January 19, edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

Last weekend marked the official end of the Christmas season and the Church’s return to Ordinary Time. Of course, our life in Christ should be anything but ordinary. In early days, Christianity was known as the Way, and its followers lived lives that were different from the world around them, marked by solidarity, charity and joy.

As modern disciples, our lives should also be distinct from the world around us. As a community, this distinctiveness appears in our regular participation in Mass, Confession and the other sacraments; in our reverence for and adoration of the Holy Eucharist; and in our visible adherence to the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church as taught by Jesus and His apostles.

We are also called as individuals to follow Christ in a particular way. This Advent and Christmas I found myself reflecting on our Blessed Mother, Mary, as the model of discipleship. While she, like all of us, was called to holiness, her specific vocation was unique and deeply personal. Called upon to bear the Son of God, once she said yes, “the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). She was left to explain her unplanned pregnancy to her betrothed and her family, to risk death by stoning, to endure the accusing stares of her community, to bow in obedience to the will of God and watch her son suffer and die at the hands of her own people. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: On Busyness

Blogger’s Note: This post first appeared as part of the Wednesday Witness blog series on the St. Michael Catholic Church website.

“Idle hands are the devil’s playground”—so goes the old saying, and I can verify its truth. So many of the sinful traps I fell into as a young man were concealed in downtime and baited with curiosity and pleasure.

It’s good for young men to keep busy, but I am no longer young. These days I struggle with having too much to do rather than too little, and that, too, can be a sin trap. A mentor of mine even has an acronym for BUSY:

Burdened Under Satan’s Yoke

Even if you work for the Church, as I am blessed to do, the acronym may still apply. Perhaps the best Christmas gift I got this year was the Monk Manual, a special sort of planner based on the prayerful patterns of work and reflection in monastic life. This beautiful leather-bound book serves not only to organize and schedule your work days, weeks and months, but leads you to examine what you achieved versus what is really important to you, at which points in the day you were at your best and worst, the state of your relationships and habits, and what God may be trying to teach you. Continue reading