Marriage as Covenant, Church as Marriage

Today is the twenty-second anniversary of our marriage. It has been, and continues to be, a crazy-busy, head-spinning, gut-wrenching week, so we’ve agreed to postpone our celebration until sometime late next week or the following week. It’s an important day, but also no big deal. We’re in it for the long haul.

Not long ago, one of my dear spiritual daughters asked me: If it is natural for people to grow out of some friendships over time, what about marriages? I told her that it’s natural that certain feelings toward your spouse might change over time, like they do toward anyone else. The difference is that married love is not friendship.

Love is choosing the good of another regardless of the cost to yourself. Marriage is a lifelong commitment to love one person above all others save God. Love is an act of the will. Married love is an act of the will—a choice you make, as best you can, for the good of another—every moment of every day for the rest of your life.

In this light, married couples might grow out of friendly feelings, but must not grow out of love for each other. Continue reading

Spiritual Cardio, Part 1

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.

The weekend after my conversation with my spiritual director, we were house- and dog-sitting for our extended family, the Engels, while they headed to Virginia for their eldest’s Seton Home Study School graduation. They live on Maple Lake, so taking care of their black lab, Dusty, is like a mini-vacation for us (and an absolute blast for Bruno).

I couldn’t wait to get there with the family, to wake to the sound of loons on the lake and the peace that pervades that house, and to enjoy some down time with my family. I had it all planned out—we would head over after our Poland reunion Friday night and stay to have supper with the Engel clan when they returned home on Memorial Day evening (their idea). So I was dismayed when, earlier in the week, Jodi began to express that she would rather go later and get some work done around the house. 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

Motherland of Mercy, Part 1: St. Maximilian Kolbe

Blogger’s Note: I have no set order for these Sacred Heart posts, but am writing as Providence provides and the Spirit moves. Today the readings in 33 Days to Morning Glory shifted to focus on John Paul II, and I was called back to July 2016, World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland

Rome may be the the Eternal City and the seat of Catholic teaching authority, wisdom, and creativity in the world, but it seems to me that Poland is its bleeding, beating heart. Ravaged by wars and neighboring countries, ripped apart and reconstituted, invaded and occupied, the Poles have fought, suffered, and died for centuries, surrendering everything they had except their faith. Today, Poland is the homeland of ten 20th-century canonized Catholic saints and, I would argue, serves as the counter-cultural, Catholic conscience of Europe.

In summer of 2016, however, three specific Polish saints loomed large over World Youth Day in Kraków: the martyr of Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe; the visionary nun, St. Faustina Kowalska; and the prophetic pope, St. John Paul the Great. Each in his or her own way lived out the love of Christ in the world, pouring themselves out for the salvation of souls. Each embodied His suffering Sacred Heart. Over the next three days I will look at them, one at a time, and explain as best I can what captured my imagination about each of them. Continue reading

Chains of Memory

The past couple of days I’ve been plagued by memories: guilty recollections of past sins, glimpses of images I never should have seen, bits of off-color or debauched “humor,” lyrics to songs that should not be sung.

Beginning in college, this was my rebellion. I looked at, listened to, and watched whatever I wanted. And in short order, I proved the adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” During much of my college years, I swore like a sailor; I told dirty jokes to old friends and new acquaintances, and I made excuses for my behavior—to others and to myself.

“It could be worse,” I said, and I knew I was right. I had a vivid imagination, and worse played out in my mind if I lingered too long on any impure thing.

Thanks be to God, over the first ten year of my marriage to Jodi, I weeded these things out of my life. Little by little I dropped the jokes, kicked my swearing habit, left porn behind, stopped watching racy movies, and cleaned up my taste in music. And beginning with one no-nonsense confession with Fr. Siebenaler, in which he politely but firmly questioned my resolve to actually amend my life and advised me to open myself to Jodi and ask for her help, I left off making excuses, and began instead to apologize.

So here we are, more than a decade later, and the Enemy is at work again: I find myself mindlessly mouthing the music in my head, only to realize it’s some obscene gangster rap fantasy or metal mayhem I laughed at as a younger man. In my mind’s eye I see images I haven’t looked upon in years, like a sin scrapbook I can’t help but leaf through, gazing at memories best forgotten.

That’s the first point of this ramble: you can’t forget. What your brain takes in is filed away for later reference. Every image, every word, is there, tying you to past experience. And those things you subject yourself to again and again, out of desire or habit? Your mind naturally assumes they are important, forging shorter, stronger connections so they can be easily accessed.

I can’t recall yesterday’s discussion with my bride, but I remember every detail of my past sins, with a clarity that repels the spirit and tempts the flesh anew. The Accuser seeks to set me against myself—but I know now I must seek every day, every moment, to purify both body and soul.

That’s the second point: The struggle against sin is noble and never-ending, to be sure, but all struggles are not created equal. The struggle of the rabbit in the snare speeds its demise; it kicks and thrashes against the noose, which only tightens against its efforts.

That was me, in the confessional all those years ago—declaring sorrow for my sins but unwilling to even attempt to remove my head from the strangling wire. The death brought about by sin cannot be escaped by panic, emotionalism, or bodily struggle. It is a spiritual struggle, requiring prayer, persistence, and genuine love of neighbor and of self. At some point, all the plans, safeguards, and accountability measures boil down to a decision: Am I going to stop doing these things or not?

How does one become a saint? Will it.

Finally, the third point: We don’t have to remain bound in these chains of memory, because God’s love is mercy.

This is not the first time I’ve struggled with recalling past sins and feeling old remorse and new temptation. The last time I remember it as strongly as this, our pastor, Fr. Richards, advised that I repeat the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

84764-divinemercy

At the time he told me this, it didn’t click with me that these are the words of the inscription at the bottom of St. Faustina’s image of Divine Mercy. (“Jezu ufam tobie” in the original Polish, above.)

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust in your mercy. I trust that you have forgiven these past, confessed sins. I trust that you continue to forgive me. I trust that you love me.

We are washed clean in the blood and water that flow from His Sacred Heart. We need not linger in darkness or doubt. He loves us. He forgives us. He saves.