Wednesday Witness: Too Much to Carry Alone

I am a proud parent of five children, ages 22 to 8. Our eldest is married in Bismarck, and he and his bride recently shared that they are expecting. Most of my family is from Michigan, where my folks live in a log house we built when I was in high school. Jodi’s family is in South Dakota, for the most part—her parents live in the Black Hills.

We are spread out across three time zones. During this time of uncertainty, I wish we were closer. I worry about all of them: How are they getting on? Do they have what they need? Would they tell me if they didn’t—and what could I do about it? I pray for them daily, but that doesn’t keep the concern away.

Sometime in the past week, I ran across a description of the “layers” of the human heart. The surface layer is the emotional heart; it is reactive and feels what it feels quickly and intensely. The next layer is the intellectual heart; this level weighs the emotions against reality and tries to come to a rational conclusion. But the innermost layer is the spiritual heart, where God resides. This is the core, where we discern the fullness of Truth and experience the peace and joy that come with it. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: An Amputated Will

In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t mince words about the seriousness of sin and the need to uproot it entirely from our lives:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. – Matthew 5:29-30

This passage is often characterized as hyperbole: The Lord doesn’t actually want us to maim ourselves; He is exaggerating to drive home His point.

But when I read it early last Sunday morning, it struck me differently. Jesus says if my eye or hand causes me to sin, remove it. But of course, our bodies cannot cause us to do anything. Only one thing causes me to sin: my will. Continue reading

A Quiet Place, or the Unbearable Blessing of Parenthood

AQuietPlaceCoverScary movies are not our favorite, but last weekend, Jodi, Gabe and I finally watched A Quiet Place, the unexpected, critically acclaimed monster/thriller from director John Krasinski (best know as quick-witted paper salesman Jim Halpert on the U.S. version of The Office TV series). Rated PG-13, the movie stars Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt (of Thorp favorites The Adjustment Bureau, Looper and Mary Poppins Returns) as a husband and wife trying to protect their children in a frightful world in which the sounds of day-to-day life are deadly.

Most horror movies and thrillers (honestly, most movies overall) are too violent, profane, explicit and/or gory to garner my attention, but the trailer for this one caught my eye, followed by a number of positive reviews, including this one (with spoilers; don’t read past the first paragraph if you want to view it fresh!) by Bishop Robert Barron in which he called A Quiet Place “the most unexpectedly religious film of the year.” Finally, my son Brendan and his fiance Becky recommended it to us, and it all became too much: It had to be seen. Continue reading

Pro-Life Between the Bookends

Most pro-life Christians, I suspect, would agree that every human life is intrinsically valuable. The Book of Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image and likeness, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the image in which we are made is Jesus Christ Himself. Our dignity is not in the dust from which we were formed, but in the Spirit breathed into our lungs by the Creator Himself. Our worth has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the One who loved us into being.

Many of us would not accept the argument that anyone—born or unborn, young or old, capable or incapable—is not worth saving or sustaining. Many of us believe that abortion and euthanasia are unacceptable, that suicide is always tragic, and that today, the death penalty is rarely justifiable even when it may seem deserved.

Why? Because the value of every human life is infinite in God’s eyes. Many of us believe and proclaim these truths. So why do we struggle to apply them to ourselves?

How many of us grew up wishing we were different somehow: taller or thinner; more athletic or smarter; better looking; more popular with girls, guys, teachers or parents?

How may of us carried that chip past graduation: a desire to be seen and noticed, heard and understood? A desire to prove ourselves, to be somebody, to be relied upon, to be right?

How many of us even now find ourselves wishing that we had different gifts? How many of us think that our spouses and children would benefit from someone different, or at least a better version of ourselves? And that if we were just a little more than what we are, we would be happier, they would be happier, even God would be happier?

How many of us will carry that with us into old age: the idea that we are what we can do? And if we regard this lie as truth, how many of us will leave this life feeling broken, diminished, worthless?

We Christians do not accept the argument that an unborn child’s potential disability or a newborn’s helplessness warrants termination, any more than a quadriplegic’s paralysis or an elderly woman’s inability to care for herself does. We do not accept that these people must somehow prove their worth or earn their right to life and loving care.

When we pray for human life to be valued in our culture, we reference the bookends, “from conception to natural death.” But what about our own lives, between the bookends?

Between the bookends, the same rationale applies. Our value is not rooted in what we can or cannot do. God needs nothing, from me, you or anyone else. The only thing He desires is us, just as we are. We cannot earn His love, but we don’t have to. We are made from it, shaped by it, and awash in it. It’s ours for the taking, in superabundance. He desires us: me…and you.

You have nothing left to prove. The only One who matters has already chosen you.

Call and Response: Embracing the Already of Christ’s Saving Act

Blogger’s Note: This was my final paper for the fourth semester of the Catechetical Institute, “Prayer: The Blessing Given and Received.” In this reflection, we were not only to discuss the final pillar of the Catechism, but the book and Institute as a whole. After two years of study, the Class of St. Padre Pio graduated this evening, following Mass with Bishop Kettler presiding. 

The fourth pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) calls us to deeper relationship with our heavenly Father who loves us and redeems us by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, and the actions of the Holy Spirit in the world today. This relationship is cultivated through the gift of prayer, “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (CCC 2558), approached “‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart” (CCC 2559). We are creatures, completely dependent on God’s love and mercy, not only for salvation, but for our basic needs, our next breath, our very existence. Even our desire to pray is prompted by the One who desires us, seeks us, spies us from afar and runs to greet us with great joy and love.

As with the previous pillars, I was struck by how much of the “work” of prayer is in God’s hands, not ours. We bear it like a burden at times, but it is He who beckons and inspires, who teaches us what to pray for and in what order (CCC 2763), who knows our needs before we express them and even when we can’t express them. It is He who changes us in prayer, not the other way around. I was also drawn again to His proximity: We sometimes cry out to Him as though He dwells a long way off in Heaven, but that Catechism reassures us that the heaven in which God dwells—“Our Father who art in Heaven”—is less elsewhere and more elseway:

This biblical expression does not mean a place (“space”), but a way of being; it does not mean that God is distant, but majestic. Our Father is not “elsewhere”: he transcends everything we can conceive of his holiness. It is precisely because he is thrice holy that he is so close to the humble and contrite heart.

“Our Father who art in heaven” is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as in his holy temple. At the same time, it means that those who pray should desire the one they invoke to dwell in them (CCC 2794).

So we are not only immersed in God, but He in us—the Holy Spirit is not only as close as oil on skin, but so thoroughly fills us that, in truth, our only escape from Him is an act of the will in which we reject His love and refuse to turn back to Him. He who has the power to save us desires my salvation more than I do myself! Continue reading