Wednesday Witness: Private Little Wars

Last weekend I was blessed to make my fourth annual silent retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House at Demontreville, near Lake Elmo, Minnesota. My two eldest sons went with me for a weekend of rest, reflection and spiritual rejuvenation.

The music that is played over the weekend ranges from Gregorian chant to sax-and-bongos praise music that too frequently causes my sons and I make eye contact and stifle laughter. Over the past few weeks, the three of us had been trying to recall a particular song from the late 1960s that seems to be played at every retreat, every year. It isn’t a bad song, but a little too…’60s…for us to really enjoy. We couldn’t remember the name, but knew that the instant it started our eyes would meet, for better or worse. And sure enough, they did, on Friday—the first full day of the retreat. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Is This Seat Taken?

Blogger’s Note: Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, August 1, 2018.

Have you ever been a guest at a friend’s home and found yourself standing at the dinner table, trying to decide where to sit without being presumptuous or disrupting your hosts’ plans? This situation is common enough that Jesus references it in His teaching:

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table” – Luke 14:8-10

That moment of awkward hesitation around the table stems from the recognition that there is a natural order to a dinner party: the head of the table is a place of honor; the host knows who is invited and who should sit where; we should follow his or her lead. Once the guest of honor or the head of the household is seated, the other guests generally move quickly into place. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Learning to Surrender

Blogger’s Note: Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, July 25, 2018.

Last weekend was a whirlwind. We hosted a graduation party for our second son, Gabe, which meant that my parents, their dog, and my eldest son’s girlfriend, Becky, joined the seven of us and our dog in our three-bedroom house Friday through Sunday. The Engels—six in number, and as much family as our blood relatives—spent much of the daylight hours and a few after dark with us as well. The house was packed to the rafters and filled with laughter; the weather was wonderful, the turnout was great, and a joy was pervasive among almost everyone.

Almost everyone, except me. Continue reading

Loose Ends and Lessons

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.

This is my twentieth post related to the Sacred Heart in twenty-one days. As I mentioned in the first one, my motivation for this series was to break into bite-size pieces what promised to be a sprawling single post about how Christ has been drawing me toward His love and mercy via His Sacred Heart (with a secondary motive of breaking through writer’s block to begin writing daily again).

The result has been bigger and more sprawling than I thought, with a longer timeline and deeper connections than expected. In this final, formal post of the series, I’ll share three last connections from along The Way. Continue reading

The Narrow Way

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.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” — Matthew 7:13-14

The narrow way leads ever upward, and you follow as you can. Bare rock and brambles, clefts and washouts so steep and deep you turn sideways to pass or clamber out on all fours. Feet and fingers dirt-caked and bloody; knees rubbed raw, and muscles aching, you begin to imagine the weight of the wood.

The path that left the road was barely a path at all: a crooked parting in the thistles and brush, leading up to scrub oak and pines. Emerging at last above the trees, at intervals you glimpse the road below, broad and easy, winding downward into the cool shadows of the valley; you hear snatches of ribald song, bells, and laughter.

But that was hours ago—the temptation to join the carefree throng is long past. Beyond birdsong and brooksong, the air is thin and sharp as a blade in your lungs. As the sun drops, the urge now is not to turn back, but simply to cease. Continue reading