I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.Ezekiel 36:26
Life in this world seems to dispense blessing with one hand and heartache with the other. In the past few weeks, we’ve enjoyed weddings and worship, family, and friends, brewing and canning in abundance—and learned of the passing of friends, the decline of others, lost children, and struggling families.
Have you ever wished you couldn’t feel each loss so keenly? The joys of life are wonderful, but at times, the temptation to not feel at all becomes so strong that you harden your heart even against the good to avoid the pain of the bad.
Hardness is not a virtue. As a physical trait, it has the peculiar tendency of making a thing seem solid and strong, while rendering the thing more brittle and fragile. (Diamonds are a rare exception, and the conditions required to create one in nature are extraordinary.) Scripture warns specifically against hardness of heart, and many people know from experience that the thicker the shell we build around our hearts, the more painful the blow and crack that finally breaks it open.
Many of you reading know that Jodi and I have been discerning the possibility of me becoming a deacon. A deacon in the Catholic Church is an ordained member of the clergy, meaning that like priests and bishops, they receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. An ordained deacon is a deacon for life. If unmarried, he remains unmarried; if married, he does not remarry after the death of his wife. They generally serve the Church and assist priests at the altar during Mass, with certain pastoral and sacramental duties, and with teaching and preaching. Generally, they maintain their careers outside the Church, which uniquely positions them as clergy out in the world on a regular basis.
The Church recognizes two types of deacons. Transitional deacons are ordained deacons on their way to becoming ordained priests. Permanent deacons are ordained deacons who do not intend to become priests but have answered God’s call to serve the Church in this deeper way.
In the Catholic Church, deacon is not a volunteer position or a job, but a vocational call—and for a married couple that has a vocational call as husband and wife, it ought to be a big decision. As the Institute for Diaconate Formation (IDF) here in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis often puts it, Wives need to be comfortable with their husbands marrying another woman, the Church.
Time is a strange phenomenon. We’ve all experienced that sensation in which the days seem long and weeks short; where the whole summer stretches out in front of us for sunlit miles…and then suddenly it’s Christmas. Marriage is like that, too. On a hot summer’s day on the South Dakota plains—August 17, 1996—in a little Spanish-style stucco church named for a German bishop, St. Liborius, two kids got hitched. The tall, slim, cleancut groom in white tails was me: book-smart and big-hearted, a little awkward and a lot emotional, with an insecure streak, a dose of self-righteousness, and a professed agnosticism that bore little resemblence to the faithfulness I was prepared to promise to this girl.
And what a girl! Jodi was, then as now, beautiful: dark wavy hair, eyes that went from brown to hazel to green and back, quick to laugh, solid and peaceful, steadfast in her Catholic faith, and willingly to pour herself out entirely for those she loved. She was a fountain flowing; I, a bottomless bucket.
One of us cried at our wedding—the one who saw too well that he was getting the better end of this deal. How could I ever love her enough?
Blogger’s Note: This post appeared as the Sunday, August 1, bulletin column for St. Michael Catholic Church.
Last weekend our family went to Sunday Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Watertown, South Dakota. The pews were full; the priest, energetic; and we took part in blessing a couple celebrating 40 years of marriage with the same blessing song used by our Christ Renews His Parish retreats and St. Michael Catholic School:
May the blessing of the Lord be upon you/we bless you in the name of the Lord.
We caused much worry and concern as our youngest daughter, Lily, bolted from the worship space with her hands over her mouth as if she were going to be sick—and relief when she returned with a gap in her smile, having lost a tooth. And we delighted in Father inviting up a young boy who had drawn for him a picture of the Lord with the message Trust In Jesus on it.
“You love Jesus, don’t you?” said the priest, and the boy nodded solemnly. “And you trust Him, like the young boy in the gospel, who gave everything he had [loaves and fishes] even though he knew it wasn’t enough.”
None of these moments would have transpired had we rose Sunday morning and decided to head for home instead of to Mass.
This post will appear as a column in the May 30, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin. I am posting it early because somebody, somewhere, needs this today.
It’s been a tough few weeks. First some close friends lost their son—a veteran, husband and father of two—after a long struggle with mental health and the ongoing impact of combat violence. Another friend lost her mother, and yet another friend lost his wife and mother of his three adopted children after a long battle with cancer. Then I woke to the news that my grandma, Rowena Thorp, had passed in her sleep this morning (Tuesday, May 25) at age 90.
We always experience sadness at the death of a loved one, even if their rest is well earned. We miss their faces, voices, laughter and advice. We sometimes regret questions unasked or things unsaid, and we often wish we could see them one last time.
When we lose someone too soon or to circumstances beyond our ability to manage or understand, the loss can be devastating. How, in these cases, do we persevere in hope?